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If I've learned anything about videogames, once you've killed the boss, it's just like "Alright, everybody give up."

It's well known that to actually defeat evil, you have to directly kill the Big Bad -- you can't just hack through enough of his soldiers to leave him relatively harmless. So the army of good will stall the army of evil while the hero and his friends sneak in to kill the Big Bad.

This trope can be justified if the Mooks were not loyal to the villain in the first place; they may have been forced to fight against their will, or obeyed out of fear of death or a Fate Worse Than Death. Alternatively, without the unifying figure of the Big Bad, The Empire would rapidly collapse into warlordism.

It's notable that this trope only applies if the Big Bad dies. There's no situation where whittling the guy within an inch of his life will even dent his or her organization/get them killed by, say, the Good army that could probably take him, and will only rarely cause the disrespectful Lieutenant of Evil to make his bid for power.

Contrast Combat by Champion, where you may actually get an agreement that if you and the Big Bad fight, and he dies, you win.

A form of No Ontological Inertia. Compare Golden Snitch for when the objective is an object instead of a person, and Instant Win Condition for when the objective was not considered important until you claimed it. When it applies to the hero, see We Cannot Go on Without You. See Load-Bearing Boss for cases where even the villain's headquarters die with him. When the villain's entire army collapses without him, it's a Keystone Army. When you make a drastic change in the entire world, you've just captured the Cosmic Keystone. Overlaps or leads to And There Was Much Rejoicing. Savvy villains attempting to avoid this effect can attempt an El Cid Ploy. See also Losing the Team Spirit.

This trope is not about an army of Headless Horsemen or otherwise undead without heads.

Examples of Decapitated Army include:


Anime and Manga

  • The Mahora Festival arc in Mahou Sensei Negima, where thanks to an added condition in the ritual the heroes were rushing to stop, all that was needed to attain complete victory was for that arc's Big Bad to be defeated by Negi. This really pissed off Chisame, since it meant that all her efforts didn't matter in the end.
    • Averted in Jack Rakan's Pensieve Flashback, where killing Lifemaker didn't stop the end-of-the-world ritual, and it took the entire fleet of three world superpowers to block it.
  • At the end of Code Geass, Prisoners are freed and people rejoice when the evil overlord, in the middle of his global reign of terror, is killed by Zero, the supposedly dead freedom fighter. The kicker? The evil lord is actually the protagonist, and wasn't actually evil. Maybe.
    • It helps that, in this case, Lelouch's army is literally incapable of self-determination. He geassed them all into mindless slaves. They have no will other than obeying his orders or that of his immediate subordinates, and they were all in on it.
  • In Yu-Gi-Oh! GX, when the supreme king is defeated, his massive demon army immediately scatters.
  • Utawarerumono repeatedly uses this trope. In the anime version all the wars, exept that against Kunnekamun, are won that way.
  • Played straight and defied in Fullmetal Alchemist. The coup specifically targeted Central command's top officers to disorganize and rout the enemy forces. It worked, at least until Fuhrer Bradley revealed himself to survive the assassination attempt. Defied by the Northern Force of Briggs, where their general was taken as hostage.

  General Olivier Armstrong: It seems you do not know me well, gentlemen. One of our contingency is "If the situation calls for it, leave me behind." Survival of the fittest is the iron law of Briggs, and if I bite the dust here, it just means I am not fit to live. Do not take the notion of "I have raised them" as superficial. They can work with, or without me, and that's what makes a Briggs soldier.

  • Subverted in Naruto, where after Gato dies, his thugs plan on looting the Land of Waves since he can't pay them. While the heroes don't have enough strength left to fight them off, the arrival of the citizens of the Land of Waves combined with Naruto and Kakashi making Shadow Clones forces them to retreat.
    • Apparently played straight with Orochimaru and the Sound. Within days of his death, discipline and security collapsed in at least two high-security facilities.
  • In Code Geass: Nightmare of Nunnally, after Charles disappears from the world as a result of Nunnally refusing to complete his Assimilation Plot, the undead Knights of the Round fade from existence, as they only exist because of his power.
  • Despite claims from the trope article itself, One Piece does the "inch of his life" variety in every major arc. It often works because these are not armies, but pirate crews that work on Asskicking Equals Authority. By winning, Luffy almost immediately proves that the rank and file aren't coming out on top. Specific examples:
    • Captain Axe-Hand Morgan's defeat caused his Marines to stop fighting immediately. He was an extremely Bad Boss and they all hated him, enough to have him arrested after the fact.
    • Luffy had to defeat Arlong and destroy Arlong Park in order to set the village people free. It helps that, in just a couple of attacks, the Straw Hats put his Mooks out of commission and were left with his foremen.
    • The only way to stop the war in Alabasta was for Luffy to beat Crocodile and prove he's been manipulating the country this entire time. Played for Drama since the rebels/soldiers/Baroque Work agents weren't going to stop for anything.
    • Enel had to be defeated because, aside from his high-ranking soldiers, nobody liked him anyway.
    • Rob Lucci, while only being The Dragon to Spandem's Big Bad, had to be defeated by Luffy, or else he would just zoom on ahead and kill Robin. And even when Rob Lucci went down, the Straw Hats still had to make a grand escape from the Buster Call.
    • More justified with Gecko Moria, who was holding all the shadows from people around the world. Without those shadows, people die when exposed to sunlight. Once he was beat up enough, he forcefully let go all of the shadows he had collected.
    • Averted with Impel Down and Marineford. Luffy isn't strong enough to beat Magellan, and nobody too high up in the Marine chain is actually defeated. The war only ends because Whitebeard, whom the Marines were really after, was killed, and Shanks popped up, who agreed he'd take on all of the Marines and pirates if things didn't stop.
    • Averted in the Fishman Island arc. When Hody Jones goes down, his senior crew members go insane and just start killing everyone. They reasoned that even if they died, they could kill enough people for their legacy of hatred to persist. The Straw Hats had to beat the entire lineup and a vast portion of their 100,000 strong army to settle things. Incidentally, most of said army was human slaves and fearfully-loyal Fishman, so they at least gave up when Hody went down.
  • In Jo Jos Bizarre Adventure, it is possible to defeat otherwise invincible Stands by finding and killing the user, who is generally a regular human. As a Stand is a manifestation of the user's spirit, its existence will fade along with their life.


Comic Books

  • Averted in Marvel Comics' "The Siege," when Norman Osborn is defeated but the heroes still have to deal with the rest of his invasion force, especially the Sentry. However, played straight in the Marvel Universe in general when pretty much everything Osborn had a hand in is entirely dismantled, dismissed, or overhauled the moment he's in jail.
  • Subverted in the Bone comic series. After the Hooded One is defeated, the Rat Creatures and Pawans initially act as though they are defeated and retreat, but then regroup and attack again a minute later.


Fanfiction

  • In the alternate ending of My Immortal, Ebony dies and ends up in Ironic Hell, and everyone rejoices and returns to normal.
  • In Halo: Halos in Space, it is suggested that killing the "boss alien" will make all the others go back to Alien Town.


Film

  • The former Trope Namer comes from a famous Crowd Song in the 1939 film version of The Wizard of Oz; however, there it was justified, as the Munchkins were oppressed by the Witch of the East, and the "evil army" of the Witch of the West (the Winkies) turned around and cheered the destruction of their oppressor.
  • In Star Wars: Return of the Jedi, Emperor Palpatine's death seems to reduce the entire Imperial starfleet to virtual catatonia. They aren't even shown retreating or regrouping; they just suddenly are gone.
    • This was picked up on by Timothy Zahn, who worked a Hand Wave for it into the plot The Thrawn Trilogy. The Emperor was bolstering his forces morale via the Dark Side, and when he died the shock forced the Imperials into retreat. It also didn't help that the Executor, the most powerful vessel of the fleet and carrying all the leading personnel, was destroyed a few minutes prior.
    • Averted in Revenge of the Sith, however, the Separatist forces on Utapau keep fighting after Obi-Wan kills Grievous.
  • In The Chronicles of Riddick, Riddick kills the Big Bad and the war stops, because whoever kills the guy takes his place.
    • Admittedly, the immediate battle was already over at that point, and had been for days. The army curb-stomped Helion Prime in a single night, and the only thing Riddick actually stopped was the subsequent genocide of everyone left on the surface.
  • The battle at the start of the movie Gangs of New York seems to invert this--the Dead Rabbits stop fighting almost instantly.
  • Nicely subverted in the film version of Prince Caspian, when both sides agree that the entire battle shall come down to a duel between High King Peter of Narnia and King Miraz of Telmar. Peter wins, but there's a Starscream handy to start the battle up anyway. It's okay, though, because that's when a literal Deus Ex Machina saves the day.
  • Used on a small scale in the movie The Fifth Element. Encountering a Hostage Situation, Bruce Willis takes a moment to figure out which bad guy is the leader, then offers himself as a "negotiator", turns the corner and immediately shoots the leader between the eyes. This works because Mangalores are honor-bound not to fight if their leader is killed. One even complains "no fair".
  • In Equilibrium, this is explicitly part the plan of La Résistance, although it wouldn't have worked if the La Résistance didn't also destroy all the prozium factories once they had the signal that the Big Bad was dead.
  • In Army of Darkness, the skeletons run screaming and the good guys declare victory the instant Semi-Good Ash disposes of Bad Ash.
  • Averted in Black Hawk Down; when Mike Durant is captured, a militia man explains to him that even if General Aidid is captured, they will not suddenly put down their arms and adopt democracy.
  • Inglourious Basterds revolves around several plots to kill Hitler, Goebbels, Goering, and Bormann. The film heavily implies that fulfilling this condition will win the war for the Allies. (Not that it would have worked out so neatly in Real Life...)
  • The 2010 Alice in Wonderland subverts this trope in favor of an Instant Win Condition; it's not the Red Queen that Alice has to kill, it's the Jabberwock. The massive, otherwise invulnerable dragon was the only reason anyone obeyed her, and her entire army rebelled the second it was dead.
  • In the movie Prince Valiant the titular hero fights with the throne usurper while the palace guards fight his supporters. Once he kills the usurper, guards stop fighting and swear allegiance to him. It Makes Sense in Context, but not fully.
  • Subverted in Sahara. The heroes rationalize that if they take out Kasiim, his army should surrender. When they succeed, both immediately note that it should never have worked. Then the camera pans out to reveal that the rebel army showed up and surrounded Kasiim's army while they weren't paying attention.
  • The Movie of V for Vendetta has shades of this: V's plot to take down the government hinges on the assumption that the rank-and-file will become ineffective after he kills off the head of the government... and kills off all second-in-commands, and blows up a building for good measure. Not so in the original comic book, where V not only killed off the heads of government, he took over, then destroyed, their primary means of communication. No leaders, no way to keep order, and a whole lot of pissed-off people being told by the One-Man Army that did it all that they can now either choose true freedom or doom themselves again.


Literature

  • The ultimate example would be the destruction of Sauron in JRR Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings. Not only did his death end the war, but the frontal attack on his forces by Gandalf, Aragorn, and the others was just a diversion so Frodo could kill him. Saruman does cause trouble after his death (this was left out of the movie) but he certainly isn't a threat to all Middle-Earth, just the Shire.
      • In The Movie, Sauron helpfully knocks out his entire army with a pressure wave from his explosive death. It also has the after-effect of causing a massive earthquake that shatters the ground, collapsing his land in a neat semi-circle around the heroes and killing off about two-thirds of his army (the rest ran like hell).
    • And note that this is averted in The Hobbit, where the Orc/Warg army at the Battle of Five Armies is certainly somewhat discomforted when Beorn manages to kill their leader Bolg, but does not immediately crumble. This is because those Orcs were acting under their own will and not that of Sauron. This is also emphasised in the early chapters of The Two Towers, when other Northern Orcs do not get along with the Mordor-orcs under Sauron's direct control (and the Uruk-hai under Saruman's control don't get along with either side).
    • In The Silmarillion, the Dwarven contigent of the Union of Maedhros abruptly leaves the battle after their King is killed injuring The Dragon.
  • Harry Potter partially has this. When Voldemort was defeated the first time, his organisation immediately crumbled. However, it was an Oddly Small Organization and it is implied that there was a lot of chaos, what with arresting Death Eaters and figuring out who was forced into it or enchanted or what. Also, Voldemort had been on his own and operating under his own agenda, so his supporters would most likely have been separated and taken by surprise. The end of Deathly Hallows averts this, as pretty much every Death Eater was either dead, incapacitated or had done a Heel Face Turn by the time Voldemort dies.
    • Voldemort tries the trope himself late in Deathly Hallows, where he thinks "killing" Harry will stop the Hogwarts rebellion. It doesn't work, even well before Harry reveals that he's alive.
  • The Redwall series. Pick a book, any book. Somewhat justified in that the mooks of choice, the rats, are uniformly idiotic to the point of being comic relief save for the occasional brutal, charismatic leader who turns them into a threat.
  • Subverted in the Discworld novel Small Gods. Big Bad Vorbis, leader of The Empire (to whom the protagonists belong), starts a war with pretty much every other nation on the planet. He gets killed by a turtle (it's a long story) and the hero brings his body to the battlefield to try and convince the other nations not to attack. Their response? They've put too much effort into preparing for war to stop and not attack. After all, they've come all this way. So, long story short, they attack anyway. The overall message is that war is bigger than any one man, even if that one man was mostly responsible for all the crap that happened in the first place. (Luckily the Great God Om bullies everyone else's gods into telling them to call the war off, and that gets their attention.)
    • In Jingo, Vimes encounters a desert tribe and attempts to capture their leader to force surrender... which makes them charge even faster, since they believe that any leader stupid enough to be captured so easily isn't worth following.
    • Explored in Night Watch. Vimes and Carcer are whisked back out of time, leaving their armies behind. In the words of Havelock Vetinari, who was there and caught up the long way around, Carcer's men quailed when he was gone. Vimes's men? They tore the enemy apart when they saw he was down.
  • In the Warhammer 40000 Blood Angels novel Deus Sanguinius, when Rafen proclaims Arkio's death and shows them the body it doesn't end the battle, but the Blood Angels who had fought on Arkio's side switch to supporting their brothers.
  • One of Stephen Lawhead's books in the Pendragon Cycle averted this in regards to the Saecsens. The narrator mentions that killing the leader is a bad idea, as his subordinates will then fight to the last man to avenge him. Capturing him alive, however, kills their will to fight.
  • In the Warhammer 40000 Ultramarines novel Dead Sky, Black Sun, Honsou's killing one of the opposing generals gives him the chance to talk. He has to point out that they have fought and died while the other general lurked behind to win his followers' support.
  • Justified at the end of Eragon: Durza tricked and mentally enslaved the Urgals, which was why they were fighting. In reality, the Urgals were not particularly good at fighting together when not mind-controlled, due to the fact that Durza had enslaved Urgals from a number of different clans, a good number of which were at war or otherwise on bad terms with the others. So when Durza dies they are freed, and promptly panic or turn on each other.
  • In Wicked, immediately after Nessarose is killed, apparently all of munchkinland seemed to be driven into total disarray, and pure chaos in the streets.
  • Subverted in the Ciaphas Cain novel Duty Calls. The antagonist of the book is a Chaos Warmaster with an army of encharmed slaves. Cain tricks him into a duel and kills him. He then half-hopes that this will cause all the enslaved people to come to their senses but in his heart he knows that "this only happens in fairy tales". And indeed Chaos forces are just enraged by the loss of their idol and attack ferociously.
    • Played straight earlier in Death or Glory, where Cain killing the Ork Warboss Korbul causes the Orks to fracture into competing warbands and scatter within hours.
  • In Conan the Barbarian novel The Hour of the Dragon, Amalric's death causes his army to break.
    • In "Beyond the Black River", the Picts retreat when Zogar Sag dies.
  • In the post-Apocalypse novel Malevil, this is used as the plan of attack near the end of the novel. The Bigger Bad is marching his army toward the hero's castle, he rules his men with fear and bad luck has cost him his two best lieutenants. If they can kill him and his last second-in-command then his army should disband. They have to succeed because while he can't take the castle in a single battle, they won't be able to win a prolonged guerrilla war against him.
  • The Gaunts Ghosts novel Necropolis ends with Gaunt killing Heritor Asphodel and crippling his forces in the process. Justified by the Zoicans being controlled by a signal he was continually broadcasting.


Live Action TV

  • In the last episode of Life, Charlie Crews is in a car with Roman and his hired goons, being driven off to an uncertain, but likely unpleasant, fate. In his ultimate Crowning Moment of Awesome, Charlie takes Roman out with a jab to the throat, and the goons barely react as Roman chokes to death. Then Charlie informs them that whatever hold Roman had over them is gone now, and they can just go their separate ways-- and awesomely ends his whole speech with, "Do you guys understand English?" (They apparently do.)
  • After Abby died on Dawson's Creek, Dawson himself lampshaded this:

 "Everybody's playing the dutiful mourners, but underneath there's this weird sense they're all munchkins finally freed from the spell of the Wicked Witch of the East."

  • In the 1998 Merlin series, this happens when King Vortigern is killed, complete with his army surrendering.
  • Played with in Kaizoku Sentai Gokaiger; by the end of the series, the Zangyack Empire has lost not only its Emperor, his son and several of their top lieutenants and scientists, but a massive fleet drawn from across the universe. A couple of months after the final battle, the Gokaigers read about the Empire's descent into factionalism and decide their next adventure will be on the Zangyack's home turf.
  • Invoked and planned by Phil Leotardo in The Sopranos; if the New Jersey mafia loses his leaders, it can then be easily assimilated by the New York one.


Professional Wrestling

  • In Lucha Libre, the easiest way to win a trios or atomicos match is to score the pinfall or submission on the designated captain of that team.


Tabletop Games

  • In pre-6th Edition versions of Warhammer, killing the general not only cost your opponent a powerful hero and all the General-related benefits, but actually caused every enemy unit to test for Panic, possibly causing the entire enemy army to run for the hills. Nowadays, this only affects Undead armies, who start to fall apart because the necromancer is no longer animating them and because they have fewer General-related benefits.
    • Orcs/Orks in both Warhammer and Warhammer 40000 work like this in fluff. Normally, they are in a constant state of Enemy Civil War until some powerful Warboss gathers them into a WAAAGH!, and if he dies their unity tends to dissolve fairly quickly. However, this in no sense means they will cease fighting, merely that it is now far easier for an opposing force to eliminate them.
    • Followers of Chaos in 40K are even more fractious and trigger happy than Orks, and while killing their leader may simply result in a brief pause as a new leader asserts themselves, or even cause them to fight harder, they are just as likely to eat each other (maybe literally) without that unifying force. Chaos followers in Warhammer tend to be less vulnerable to this, but not by much.
      • Averted in a spectacular way when the Ultramarines specifically targeted Alpha Legion's command squad which included their Primarch. Despite losing top commanders, Alpha Legion maintained their super coordination and tactical maneuvers that they soundly beat the Ultramarines in the ensuing battles. Eventually the Ultramarines retreated and just resorted to orbital bombardment.
      • This tactic is a specialty of the Black Legion, as their Primarch Horus often preferred to launch lightning strikes at the enemy's command structure. The Horus Heresy novel Horus Rising starts off with the Luna Wolves (their pre-heresy name) doing this.
    • Used completely straight with the Tau Ethereals, the members of the guiding caste (who, it is implied, use a form of Mind Control to make sure Tau society works the way it does). If they die, the entire army undergoes Heroic BSOD before (if even) going into Unstoppable Rage.
  • Narrowly averted, then played straight in the Old World of Darkness. In the Demon: The Fallen back-story, had Michael defeated Lucifer before the War of Wrath began, the Rebellion would have been stopped. He couldn't. Much later, when the Fallen were cast into the Abyss, God made damn sure Lucifer wasn't with them, going as far as to let him go free (even if depowered), because in his presence, other Demons would have endured ANY imprisonment.
  • The almost universally known example is, of course, Chess. If you can checkmate the enemy king, it doesn't matter how horribly outnumbered your pieces are or what strong position your enemy has achieved, they simply lose.


Theater

  • Macbeth. Although the battle itself is happening offstage and we are led to believe that it's going poorly for Macbeth's loyalists, once Macduff emerges from the castle with Macbeth's head on a pike the fighting stops. Everybody immediately hails Prince Malcolm as the new King of Scotland.
    • Also happens earlier, where Macbeth and Banquo defeat Macdonwald's forces by killing him and displaying his head on a pike. In this case, Macdonwald's army is formed mostly of mercenaries, who realize that since their payer is dead, they have no more reason to fight.

Video Games

  • Battle for Wesnoth turns this into a game element. Each force is led by a commander, whose death means defeat no matter how many minions he has left. These units can still act if there are allied leaders however, but defeating all leaders is the most common way to win a scenario.
  • One of the PvP battlegrounds in World of Warcraft allows an instant win for killing the other faction's NPC leader.
    • In Dire Maul North in classic World of Warcraft, if the party only kills King Gordok, all the surviving ogres declare them the new rulers of Dire Maul. If the party does so without killing the other bosses, they will get extra rewards in the tribute chest that they receive.
    • Killing some raid bosses causes the trash near them to disappear until the instance resets next week. Many bosses' adds disappear when they're defeated, but there are some subversions, such as Sartharion (whose adds often kill the players after they defeat him with the drakes still alive), Herod (who causes an army of very weak Scarlet Trainees to rush the party after he dies), and Instructor Razuvious (whose Understudies are still alive, but get a damage increasing debuff that enables you to kill them very quickly).
    • Wrath of the Lich King is a subversion and a justified use of this trope. As pointed out when Arthas Menethil, the current Lich King is killed, the Scourge will run out of control, making them even more dangerous than before. Bolvar Fordragon becomes the new Lich King, and uses the Helm of Domination to order the Scourge to stand down.
  • Total Annihilation and Supreme Commander have similar conditions as the standard, with the added caveat that a destroyed Commander/ACU goes up like a nuclear bomb, typically taking out the rest of their army/base anyway. This is justified by the fact that they're the literal brains of the operation, and serve as the Avatar for the player. Every other unit is just a machine controlled by the commander, and have no direction upon his death. Skirmish and multiplayer games can be set to allow the player to continue if they still have other forces remaining.
    • In Total Annihilation, this sometimes leads to 'combombing', where a player will deliberately position their commander in the centre of an opponent's base- typically early in a game, when the resulting explosion will do more damage than anything else currently available could, wiping out most or all of the opponent's forces and infrastructure. Naturally, this only works if the option to fight on is enabled, otherwise this will result in either a Mutual Kill or an instant loss.
      • On the other end of the morality spectrum was the other version of 'combombing', which involved flying in a rapidly built transport plane to pick up the enemy commander, and then self-destruct the plane. Units without hilariously massive amounts of health would not survive. If the option not to fight on is enabled, it's an instant win. If it is, the bomber would usually try to position the commander in the most harmful position possible, to win quickly. Naturally, players frowned on this. Fortunately, the AI was just as vulnerable to it.
  • In the Total War games, killing the enemy general causes his troops to take a morale hit, making it much easier to mop them up. Of course, the same can happen to your general, too. In the Medieval games peasant uprisings are particularly prone to this, being mostly made up of peasants with terrible morale. So long as the general unit isn't made of spearmen, 20 cavalry can route an army of a thousand.
    • On the strategic level, killing the faction leader and all of his heirs causes the faction in question to dissolve into leaderless rebels.
  • Subverted in Starcraft, twice. First in Protoss Mission 2, "Into the Flames", Tassadar destroys a Cerebrate in hopes it will disable (or at least disorganize) the forces it controls. It does neither. Then in the finale, the Protoss with help from the Terrans go after the Overmind itself, figuring this should render the Zerg swarm helpless. Cue the expansion: Brood War.
  • In several battles in Shining Force 2, killing the resident (minor) boss enemy will instantly cause every other enemy on the field to drop dead.
  • An example of this is seen frequently in Beat Em Ups, where if you defeat the final boss of a stage while he still has Mooks on screen, all of them spontaneously and simultaneously die.
  • Thankfully played straight in Nowel's scenario in Magical Battle Arena, where all you have to do to beat the combined forces of Ruru, Kirara, Sarara, Nanoha, and Fate in her final stage is to take out Ruru.
  • The Age of Empires series has the Regicide game mode, where the death of a player's king would cause them to lose, and all their units surrender.
  • In Mount and Blade and its variants, this is both averted and played straight. Averted when it comes to the enemy leader and played straight when it comes to your army.
  • Both played straight and averted in Fire Emblem. Some missions end immediately after you defeat the opposing army's commander, while in others the enemy will continue fighting even after you kill the boss until you complete another objective, like wiping out the enemy to a man, surviving for a given number of turns, or occupying the tile the boss was sitting on. It's entirely possible (and annoying) in one of these missions for your lord unit to kill the boss only to be finished off by a bunch of Mooks next turn.
  • Warcraft is good with this trope. Played straight in the first where the orcs win after King Llane is murdered by Garona. Invoked by Orgrim Doomhammer in the second when he killed Lothar, but subverted as it only makes the Alliance angrier and the Horde lost the battle. Averted in the third when Arthas killed Mal'Ganis (because he was not the real leader of the Scourge) but played straight with the death of Archimonde.
  • The Rambo Light Gun game uses this in a minor way: whenever there's an "officer" among the enemies, killing him first will startle some of the soldiers on-screen, which will not attack for a few seconds.
  • Iji subverts this twice. Killing off Elite Krotera doesn't stop the Tasen's dominion as they're on the brink of extinction and they'll fight back at anything to the last man. Near the end, Komato General Tor discusses this trope with Iji as he reminds her he's just one general in their immense army and that if he goes down, another general will give the command to obliterate Earth. And anyway, he already gave the order and only a word from him will stop the final attack. Only beating the crap out of him convinces him to call it off.
  • Diablo II does this in Act 3. When you kill the high council the Zakarumites will no longer attack you and flee in fear.
  • Knights of the Old Republic tries to invoke the trope but fails. When Bastila leads a few Jedi to board and cripple Darth Revan's flag ship and capture the man himself, his apprentice takes this as a good reason to have his vessels fire on said flag ship's bridge and usurp the leadership of the Sith empire.
  • Played pretty much straight in Soul Calibur III: Raphael Sorel's story mode starts during the attack of his mansion/castle by disproportionate forces: an army (complete with some catapults and trebuchets) against him, Amy Sorel and his too-good-to-be-shown-onscreen servants. What do you have to do? Defeat the general, of course!
  • Played straight out of the book in the Dynasty Warriors series. Killing the enemy commander results in instant victory for your side, even if you and your commander are the only ones still alive.
    • Simultaneously subverted. When you kill an enemy officer, the soldiers in his unit keep fighting... unless they're too busy running away in fear.
  • In Resistance: Fall of Man, the deaths of the Angels at the end of the game causes the rest of the Chimera to die off once they lose their psychic contact with their Angel controllers. However, they come back in the sequel after the emergence of a new Angel/human hybrid, Daedalus.
  • Scarface the World Is Yours handles this in an odd way: you can kill all the gangsters you want, but unless you mow down the leader, the gang in question will be back for more. While killing the leader in of itself does not kill all the rest, it does prevent that gang from returning, and the leader is usually one of the last to spawn anyway.
  • Warhammer 40000: Dawn of War has the "Assassinate" victory condition, where killing the enemy commander is an Instant Win Condition.
    • Also, all of the Tau's units in the game will suffer massive morale damage if their Ethereal is killed.
    • The Instant Win Condition for the Tau and Ork strongholds in the Dark Crusade campaign is killing their leader, which causes the army to fracture and retreat. Deliciously subverted with the Orks however, as Gorgutz not only manages to escape but detonates his entire stronghold as he leaves, just because.
  • This seems to occur at the end of Half-Life, with the death of the Nihilanth ending the threat of its army. The ending of the expansion Opposing Force however shows that it was really a thermonuclear warhead obliterating the entire facility that ended the invasion, the Xen army not able to teleport to any other location on Earth. (The game's relevance to continuity is dubious, but Word of God has confirmed the validity of the ending.)
  • In Fallout: New Vegas, defeating Legate Lanius either by either killing him or convincing him to retreat will officially win the battle for the NCR (and if the player is fighting for Mr. House or an Independent Vegas, all that's left to do is to take care of General Oliver via the same means).
    • Simultaneously averted. Lanius is the second in command under Caesar. Killing Caesar himself has basically no effect on the end battle.
  • It happens often in Crusader Kings. If you declare war on an enemy king, quickly defeat him and conquer his provinces, you can force him to hand over his titles to you. All of his vassals will then become yours, and any that had taken arms to defend their former liege will cease hostilities. On easier settings, this means that you can conquer the totality (or almost) of the map with relative ease.
  • Justified in Earthbound after defeating Giygas, in that he was the source of all the enemies' evil thoughts.
    • For that matter, defeating any Sanctuary guardian causes all the enemies in the area to run away from Ness and his friends.
  • Played with in Lords of Magic: Defeating an enemy lord removes their faction from the game, and the game ends when only one lord's faction remains. However, if two lords ally together and one is defeated, the surviving lord takes control of the defeated lord's faction, and if a lord dies without allies, their soldiers become neutral wandering bandits and swear to avenge themselves against the lord who defeated them.
  • In Dragon Age, when the Archdemon is killed, the Darkspawn all turn and flee. Justified in that he's mindlinked to them: the Darkspawn Chronicles DLC, in which you play a Darkspawn, describes this as a voice in your head telling you to kill.
    • Lampshaded early in the game when Alistair explains how to end the invasion: "We cut off the snake's head."
    • This is Subverted in two ways: First, if you complete "the dark ritual", the Archdemon isn't actually killed. Secondly, in the Awakening Expansion Pack, it turns out that many Darkspawn didn't go underground, and most of the game is spent fighting them.
  • In Baldurs Gate Dark Alliance, killing a boss causes all of his minions will drop dead.
  • Justified in Super Robot Wars Original Generation: after Bian Zoldark is defeated, his troops scatter, but only because he previously gave them the order to do so if he was killed.
  • Happens in Bastion. On the second level, there's a large windbag guarding the core being supported by many smaller windbags. Defeating the head windbag will cause the others to shift their loyalty towards you... and then spontaneously dying.
  • Justified in Prince of Persia: The Two Thrones, since all of the sand monsters dissolve once you kill off The Vizier.
  • A Lord of the Rings game for the Game Boy Advance has mechanics which embody this trope. The battlefield is divided into three stripes - the middle and the flanks. All three can have leaders on them - either named characters or generic captains. Those generate command points, which are required to make units act on the battlefield. When a stripe is devoid of those - either because they died or left for another one - only the natural rate of command point generation applies, which happens to be "one point or none at all". So, basically - without a leader, units stand without orders, and the enemy can slaughter them however he pleases.
  • In Centurion Defender of Rome the death of a general is followed by the general retreat of a significant part of his army. If the units aren not very brave to begin with then it overlaps with Keystone Army. Also provides an strategical example; if the player loses Italy, taxes are no longer collected in any province.
  • In Killing Floor, defeating the final enemy, the Patriarch, immediately ends the game, even if some of his mooks are still alive.


Web Comics

  • Fans! uses this with a certain amount of justification: when the General--a warlord from the future whose cadre of troops had a loyalty bordering on worship--finally dies, Kath (who earlier mentioned that she'd "read enough fantasy to know how gods die") immediately called for the troops to lay down their arms. Though some try to fight on, the combination of watching their godlike leader die and Kath's assumption of authority cows them.
    • Rikk's troops in the relaunch have this problem too, being too dependent on him. When he's knocked unconscious in a fight, his team falls apart.
  • Subverted in this Girl Genius strip.
  • In Order of the Stick, after Roy throws Xykon into the Gate, his remaining goblin underlings attempt to surrender (giving the reason that because Xykon's dead, no one's paying them, though "Start of Darkness" provides some alternate possibilities), but Belkar kills them anyway.
    • Start of Darkness contains an interesting subversion. A charismatic goblin known as The Dark One has united all the monstrous humanoids, so the humans fake a peace talk and kill him, hoping his horde falls apart. Instead, his army goes berserk and embarks on a year-long killing spree of everyone and everything they come across. The resulting slaughter is enough to cause the Dark One to ascend to posthumous godhood via Gods Need Prayer Badly.
  • Bob the Angry Flower showcases this quite nicely.
  • Erfworld takes this trope quite literally, to the point of exaggeration. To quote Parson on the subject of the death of the leader of a faction:

  Field units disband, and this city becomes 'neutral', which is not as nice as it sounds. Units here freeze in time. We can do nothing until attacked. Ansom takes a few turns to get his ducks aligned and then curb stomps us.


Western Animation

  • In the final episode of Superman: The Animated Series, Superman manages to defeat Darkseid, and throws his battered (but still living) body from the top of his battlements to the slaves below in a suitably dramatic manner, telling them that he is finished and that they can do as they wish with him. The trope is then horrifically subverted, as the slaves immediately help him to his feet and carry him into the castle again to recover, to Superman's horror.

 Darkseid: I am many things, Kal-El... But here, I am god.

  • The Grand Finale of Avatar: The Last Airbender is close to being a subversion, but fails on certain points. Fire Lord Ozai gets depowered by the Avatar and his entire airship fleet destroyed, Azula gets dethroned before she can even be officially crowned, and the entire Fire Nation garrison at Ba Sing Se is defeated. However, the Fire Nation still effectively controls a major portion of the world, and should have a massive amount of reinforcements. Instead, the loss of their leadership and a major settlement is enough to make them all fall in line when Zuko (who shouldn't even be a legitimate heir) claims the throne. World peace ensues. This is particularly eyebrow-raising when considering that the early episodes of season 3 were basically about showing that while the people of the Fire Nation are not Always Chaotic Evil, they are still misguided, with deeply ingrained hatred of everything and everyone not Fire Nation drilled into the citizenry at every level of society. The people of the Fire Nation wouldn't realistically want to give up on fighting a war that they had almost won on the orders of a former outlaw.
    • Firelord Ozai was powered up to tactical nuke power level by Sozin's Comet. The Avatar tossed him around like a ragdoll for shit and giggles before pulling the ability to depower him out of thin air. Maybe the fire nation folks were simply scared to get on the Avatar's bad side.


Real Life

  • Ancient armies often did behave this way. Many of Alexander the Great's victories were based on having his Phalangial infantry hold off the numerically superior enemy while Alexander and his Companion horsemen cut their way through to the enemy leader and either killed him or forced him to flee the field, causing the collapse of enemy resistance. This was the tactic that won the day at the Battle of Issus and led to the collapse of the Persian empire.
    • There were a few cases where this backfired, notably at the battle of Chalons, where Attila's army was having a successful go at fighting the Roman's allies, the Goths, until the old king Theodoric the Goth fell off his horse and died, upon which a cry of "Avenge the King!" went out amongst the Goths, who proceeded to drive off the Huns.
  • The U.S government has been guilty of this, killing off high-ranking members of drug cartels and terrorist organizations again, and again, and again, and again, and again, and again, and again. The success rate of these incidents has varied; sometimes it does the job, while in others it gives the group an extra incentive to hate America.
  • Primate research ran across a case like this: an exceptional individual led his troop on a successful campaign of expanding the troop's territory against all the other troops nearby. Removal of said individual from his troop and territorial boundaries returned to their prior state. They returned him to his troop and the "conquest" started all over again.
  • This is the rationale of #18 of The Thirty-Six Stratagems.
  • Multiple occurrences on either side of the war in the long-running Chinese Three Kingdoms war.
  • The Allies planned to defeat Germany in World War II by killing Hitler, although he did it (by committing suicide) before they could get him. In retrospect, it's most likely a good thing that he wasn't killed, as it's generally agreed that his micromanaging the war, plus pinning his generals against each other, was a major element of the Axis defeat.
  • In the lesser version of war: any time the best player of a sports team is injured/leaves/retires, it'll be tough for the team to win without him. Which is why it's usual to have a defender following the standout (and possibly injure him out of the game...).
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