Decoy Protagonist

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.
Guess which of these two is the main character! [1]

"Long time ago on a planet long forgotten by time, a young hero was born, a righteous Saiyan warrior who would bring peace to the galaxy. This... is not his story."

So you've got your hero. He's practically has a giant neon sign over his head that says he's a hero. It might be subtle, but it's fairly obvious you've found the guy who'll save the day, get the girl, and live a long and hap—what the? Did he just get bitten in half by a mutant T. Rex?

Some books, films, or games like to mix things up and throw viewers for a loop by revealing that the Standardized Leader isn't The Hero. This can be very dramatic; there are few more effective ways to showcase Anyone Can Die than taking out the apparent protagonist. It can also be used comedically, revealing that the guy who thinks he's the protagonist is just a glorified bit player. Sometimes the Decoy Protagonist will turn out to be the antagonist.

Intro-Only Point of View frequently is used to emphasis his importance before The Reveal.

What happens next is the guy we perceive of as The Lancer, Sidekick, or even a fringe loner takes center stage as the real protagonist (maybe even Hero). Usually they reveal a much greater level of personal integrity and strength of will than previously thought, despite their Dark and Troubled Past.

Note that this does not necessarily involve the death of the initial protagonist, although that is often how this trope expresses itself. If the target actually dies, they're often a Sacrificial Lion. If the character actually was The Hero, see Take Up My Sword. Also see Dead Star Walking.

In video games, this can overlap with And Now for Someone Completely Different; compare First-Person Peripheral Narrator, where the narrator is obviously not the protagonist. For the villainous version of this trope, see Disc One Final Boss.

Contrast Passing the Torch, Red Herring Shirt, Disc One Final Boss, The Unchosen One, Supporting Leader.

Not to be confused with Supporting Protagonist, which is simply that the focus is on another character than the hero, or Fake Ultimate Hero, who doesn't appear to be the protagonist.

As this is frequently a Death Trope, beware spoilers:

Examples of Decoy Protagonist include:

Anime and Manga

  • Puella Magi Madoka Magica's main character isn't Madoka. It's Homura.
  • Taken Up to Eleven in Higurashi no Naku Koro ni. After Keiichi has been the main character for three arcs spanning the first 13 episodes, his spotlight is taken away for the rest of the season, with three arcs devoted to Akasaka, Shion, and Rena. Then the first episode of the second season focuses on Akasaka and Ooishi. Then we get an arc centered around Satoko. The eventual main character? Furude Rika, a True Companion who had received the least attention prior to the reveal. Keiichi still plays a critical role, though, as a source of inspiration and courage.
  • In the image above. Some viewers didn't realize Kamina wasn't the central protagonist of Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann until his death in Episode 8. It turns out that Simon is the main character.
  • Waku from Bokurano is presented in a way that couldn't be mistaken for anything other than the classic shonen hero. At least until the Aloof Big Brother accidentally knocks him off of the Humongous Mecha after his first battle, in the second episode (fifth manga chapter). Said Big Brother will eventually go on to become the main character himself (sorta). Does an excellent job setting the tone in any case.
    • Of course, it's later revealed that Waku was dead at that point anyway; Zearth is an Artifact of Death and anyone who pilots it dies shortly after.
  • Played with in Baccano!, where Carol insists that Firo is the protagonist because he's "main character-ish." Given the deliberately disjointed nature of the series (in the anime anyway, the source books are much more chronological), as well as the ridiculously huge cast of "main" characters, she manages to be completely right and way off the mark at the same time.
    • If one defined "main character" based on screen time alone, Isaac and Miria would fit.
  • In Nobuhiro Watsuki's Crescent Moon in the Warring States, the protagonist is actually Isshinta, not Hiko Seijuro as many readers believe
  • Hisashi in Highschool of the Dead is Genre Savvy about the Zombie Apocalypse setting, comes up with the name 'them' for the zombies and takes the lead in escaping the oncoming undead during the opening chapter of the manga. Unfortunately, the zombies work on standard Romero rules and a minor scratch he took to the arm kills him and forces his friend Takeshi (who goes on to become the main character) to put him down.
    • Well, he wasn't that genre savvy. His bite was from trying to grapple a zombie from behind and in fact insisted on fighting the undead with hand-to-hand combat.
  • Blassreiter: This guy got a lot of screen-time. He's great. His life is wrecked, but he should not give up. He got The Virus but clearly has enough of Heroic Willpower—look, he doesn't kill when even non-infectee could be tempted a lot! He must be the protagonist! Right?.. Oops, he turns out to be but one more deadman, who just kept the horror scenes of imminent Ninja Pirate Zombie Robot Apocalypse from being looked upon as A Million Is a Statistic.
  • The demon-hunting squad you're introduced to in the first episode of Ga-Rei Zero. They're all distinctive, have some interesting chemistry and seem like a skilled bunch. They all die. At the end of that very same episode.
    • What makes it worse is that they were included on promotional material
  • Legend of the Galactic Heroes has two main characters: Reinhard von Lohengramm of the The Empire and Yang Wenli of The Alliance. While Yang Wenli IS the most important character of the democratic cast, he's assassinated three-quarters of the way through - completely changing the dynamic of the show. Yang's protégée Julian succeeds him in the last season while Reinhard is a protagonist throughout.
  • For the first dozen volumes of the manga and all of the anime, Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicles seems to be a typical shounen series about strength and determination, centering on typical shounen hero Syaoran with the other characters in supporting roles. However, that changed when Syaoran turned out to be a clone and puppet of the Big Bad, splitting off from the party and going to wreak evil havoc. At that point the focus of the series switched to former motivational love interest Sakura, at least until SHE died several volumes later.
    • Clone Syaoran can still be considered to be the main protagonist for the first half.
  • Despite featuring an Ensemble Cast, Naoki Urasawa's 20th Century Boys has Kenji Endo at the center of the story for the first five volumes or so. After the Time Skip, this focus shifts to his niece Kanna and arguably remains there for most of the series.
  • While we're on the subject of Naoki Urasawa, Richard Braun is this for Monster. Not an entirely straight example, because he isn't this way for the series as a whole, just for an arc that takes up volumes 5-9. Still for that arc, this trope definitely applies.
  • And back to Urasawa, Pluto tells the story mostly from Gesicht's point of view for the first six volumes - up until his murder. Epsilon and then Atom take on the mantle of the hero, though Gesicht's memories play a role in the final confrontation against Pluto.
  • In The World Is Mine, we meet the two Villain Protagonists Toshiya and Mon driving down the highway, with Mon having sex with a flashy-looking high school girl. She describes herself to the audience as if she'll be the protagonist ("My name is Miho, seventeen years old, love sex!") and is then pushed out of the car into oncoming traffic. The real female protagonist is a plain-looking girl and one of the few people that Mon doesn't want to rape or kill (Mon actually curls up into her lap and falls asleep like Berserker Rage Ranma ½).
  • From the same author of Baccano!, Durarara!! has Mikado Ryuugamine who may look like he's the protagonist because he was the focus for the first episode. You might be thinking "huh, so we get to see Ikebukuro from the eyes of a Naive Newcomer". Until you see his biggest secret. Word of God says that Celty is the protagonist of the series, not Mikado.
  • The majorly Broken Base of Gundam Seed Destiny always seems to be fighting over the problem of who exactly the main character was. While Shinn Asuka gets all the best combat scenes, pilots a Gundam painted in the traditional white/blue/red/yellow color scheme usually used to signify a main character, and is front and center in most promotional material for the show; the Older and Wiser Kira Yamato takes Shinn's place as the front-and-center character halfway through the show and is portrayed as having the moral high ground over Shinn, who is supporting a character whose stated goal is the elimination of The Evils of Free Will. A fairly famous Flip-Flop of God has named Athrun Zala, a character who goes from being Shinn's mentor to Kira's Lancer around the point that the change in perspective happens as the main character of the story. While there has been much Fan Wank over this idea, citing it as an Ass Pull, it does make some sense in context; as A) a large amount of the story is dedicated to Athrun's crisis of faith over having to side with his former ZAFT comrades against The Kingdom he defected to in the previous series (due to said kingdom deciding to give in to the corrupt Federation), B) The change in series' perspective from pro-ZAFT to pro-Three Ships Alliance comes around the time when Athrun had learned of the Big Bad's master plan and jumped ship to rejoin Kira in hopes of stopping him, and C) Athrun is the one who engages and defeats Shinn (who by this point had become a very dangerous Dragon) in very emotional single combat right before the end of the war (Kira meanwhile, is busy curbstomping the local Evil Genius).
    • It doesn't help that Shinn eventually gets the titular Destiny Gundam as his Mid-Season Upgrade.
    • Also, the Destiny TV Movies were narrated from Athrun's point of view.
  • In the second "season" of Takemitsu Zamurai, a bandit leader named "Glass-eyed Tetsuzo" is set up to be the new antagonist after landing in jail. Unfortunately he's Too Dumb to Live and kicks previous antagonist Kikuchi awake. The next morning, Tetsuzo is found with his head twisted off and Kikuchi is now the owner of a pretty marble, which he eventually uses to burn the prison down and escape.
  • Black Butler II sets up Alois Trancy and Claude Faustus as the new Master and Butler duo, until Sebastian comes back, and Ciel is brought back to life. All in the first episode. After all of the marketing A-1 Pictures has done for Alois and Claude, it turns out that it was done to hide the fact that Sebastian and Ciel would be returning. Bravo.
  • Gohan, Videl, and Goku in the 13th Dragonball Z movie, Wrath of the Dragon. Not a death example, but after the first act, the focus switches from them to Trunks and Tapion and arguably stays there for the rest of the film.
  • In Yoku Wakaru Gendai Mahou Yumiko has the focus in the First Episode until its shown that Koyomi is The Main Character
  • The First Episode of Shiki follows Megumi as the central character and her life around the village. She's dead by the end of the episode
  • Emerging: Since she appears on the cover and since the first chapter revolves around her, it's very easy to mistake Akari for the series' protagonist. She gets infected with the disease at the very beginning of the story, and from then until the very end does nothing except lying in her hospital bed looking miserable. Her family doctor becomes the hero.
  • Puella Magi Oriko Magica, had an odd case. For starters, the title character isn't even on the cover of the first volume. In fact, it's an Antagonist Title; Oriko is the villain. The real protagonists, at least in the first volume, are Kyouko and Yuma, the girl who actually was on the cover. Mami functions as a secondary protagonist. And then in the second volume, Homura becomes the protagonist.
  • Takashi of All Rounder Meguru is clearly the star of the prologue, and his storyline is the heaviest and most dramatic element of the series, but Meguru's the one with his name in the title.

Comic Books

  • Like a lot of comics, Neil Gaiman's Black Orchid lampshades Bond Villain Stupidity. Unlike most, the Mook really does shoot the main character in the head. He doesn't know that she can regenerate, but he sets her on fire to be absolutely certain she's Deader Than Dead. Given this is on the second page of the first issue, it's a good thing Me's a Crowd.
  • Similarly, Gaiman's The Sandman gave us a Decoy Antagonist with Roderick Burgess, the warlock who imprisons Dream in the first issue. He seems to be set up as the Big Bad, or at least as a major antagonist. Then it turns out that the first issue spans 70 freakin' years. By the end of issue #1, Burgess has died of old age, and his son Alex is a harmless, senile old man. After Dream escapes, he leaves him in a permanent nightmare and never sees him again.
  • Shakara from 2000 AD begins with a human thinking he's the Last of His Kind after the Earth is destroyed. Nope, Insignificant Little Blue Planet is insignificant. This guy is killed two pages later by an alien who wanted a snack with attitude. Who on the next page is killed by the protagonist. And then the whole place is blown up. And then the protagonist slaughters probably the same aliens who consumed Earth (not confirmed, but their ship was feeding in Milky Way at the time) in revenge for another planet they "ate" long ago (which one of them confirms before dying).
  • Used to great effect in Origin, in which it turns out that the kid who looks like a young Wolverine and is nicknamed "Dog" isn't the one who grows up to be Wolverine, and in fact disappears after the origin story ends.
  • The Mask comics is a very good example of this. Stanley may be the first person to wear the Artifact of Doom but he is not the main character. It is debatable after the 2nd series of books whether the wearer of the mask is the main character or if it is Kellaway (the Sympathetic Inspector Antagonist). And Big Head is just The Big Bad.
  • The first Azrael miniseries begins with what appears to be the title character being shot and killed in the first few pages. As it turns out, this was the main character's father and the mantle is a Legacy Character.
    • James Robinson's Starman series had a similar opening with a superhero being killed in the first two pages, only for his brother to take up the mantle.

Fan Works

  • One no-one saw coming in Fairly English Story. Amazingly for a fanfiction, it was both unexpected, foreplanned, and incredibly well done.


  • The Trope Codifier (if not the Trope Maker) and easily the most famous example is Psycho. Marion Crane is set up as the main character through the first half of the film. Then she takes a shower... She's the reason Hitchcock asked for a "no late admission" policy, as he thought that if people entered the theater late and never saw the star actress Janet Leigh, they would feel cheated.
    • Not only that, but considering Marion's behavior in the first half, people unfamiliar with the movie could be fooled into thinking that she is the titular "psycho" of the movie, and that weak, innocent little mama's boy Norman Bates is her first victim.
    • Leigh's agent didn't want her to take the role because of how quickly the screen time ended. Leigh's response was "Ah, but who are they talking about the rest of the film?"
  • In Fargo, Jerry Lundegaard seems to be the main character, as would be typical for the Coen brothers' ordinary-schmuck-commits-a-crime-gone-wrong genre, until Marge Gunderson is introduced about a half hour into the film.
  • Mars Attacks!... Where do we begin? Everyone that could be main characters are killed, and some random guys survive.
  • Kung Fu Hustle began changing apparent main characters while they are being killed almost the first half of the movie.
  • Marlon Brando had star billing and a Best Actor Oscar for his role as Vito Corleone in The Godfather, but he was gunned down less than forty minutes in and spent a good deal of the rest of the film lying in a hospital bed before dying of a heart attack. His son Michael was the hero of the film.
  • Quentin Tarantino takes this to the point of having an entire decoy CAST in the Grindhouse film Death Proof. Half of the movie focuses on a bunch of characters where they very distinctly focus on one character who just SCREAMS Final Girl only for her and all of the characters introduced to be killed off all at once. After that the rest of the movie focuses on a completely different bunch of characters in a completely different area, and filmed in a completely different style. It was like watching a sequel to the movie in the middle of the first one!
  • People often forget that, in the original Alien movie, Sigourney Weaver's Ripley was not played as the main protagonist. For the first half of the movie, the presumptive lead was Captain Dallas AKA Victim #3.
    • It was made all the more shocking by the fact that, in 1979, Sigourney Weaver was easily the least famous actor in the cast, yet Kane (the first victim) was played by John Hurt, who was easily the movie's most bankable star. It's become somewhat spoiled by the fact that Sigourney Weaver went on to become the most famous actor in the movie, but at the time no one would have believed that she'd turn out to be the movie's hero.
  • Llwelyn Moss, from No Country for Old Men. Sheriff Bell is the real protagonist.
    • This is actually a particularily interesting case. Llwelyn Moss is pretty much the central focus for the majority of the film, with Sheriff Bell having a few short scenes here and there. The whole story seems to be building up to a showdown between Moss and Anton Chigurh. Then, somewhere within the last half-hour of the movie, Moss is waiting at a hotel for his wife, he decides to spend time with a young woman, and the scene fades to black. It suddenly fades into Sheriff Bell arriving at the hotel late at night and finding Moss dead, having been killed in an off-screen shoot-out, at which point the rest of the film focuses on him aside from a few short scenes dealing with Chigurh.
  • Alderson in Cube. The beginning of the movie shows him getting up and beginning to explore his surroundings... only to be unexpectedly sliced into cubes moments later.
    • The movie also later pulls another switcheroo on the audience's percetion of heroic potential. Initially, Quentin looks like the heroic protective leader-type within the group, but later becomes a misogynistic, homicidal bully. Whereas Worth, who initially appears to be an Anti-Hero (Type III-IV), eventually steps up to be the true protector of the survivors.
  • Jack in Big Trouble in Little China is the incompetent Comic Relief, the real hero is his "Asian sidekick" Wang Chi.
  • In Deep Blue Sea, the adventurer/executive played by Samuel L. Jackson gets bitten in half by a shark.
    • and later Saffron Burrows who got billing as the lead character, is the only character on the cover and posters and looking like the presumed Final Girl... gets eaten. It wasn't written that way, but the test audiences felt she shouldn't survive after causing that much death.
      • Karmic Justice overrides Final Girl. And really, the movie is more memorable because of it. The Black Guy Lives!... Not Samuel L Jackson, the other black guy.
  • Sarge in the Doom movie has a psychotic break and later (for unrelated reasons) turns into a demon.
    • He even lampshades this when he is caught by the demons and shouts out "I'm not supposed to die!", because he assumed he was the main character.
  • Steven Seagal in Executive Decision.
  • Mamma Mia!! tries to fool you into thinking the daughter is the protagonist in the opening numbers, but then the POV switches to the significantly more interesting mother. (This should not be a surprise, given who got cast as the mother.)
  • Paul Taylor in the remake of The Blob.
  • The 2009 Continuity Reboot of Friday the 13 th has a group of teens slaughtered by Jason in the beginning and then introduces another group of teens including obvious Final Girl Jenna. Jenna is the Decoy Protagonist and is abruptly killed off twenty minutes before the end. The actual Final Girl is Whitney, one of the girls from the first group whom Jason took alive.
    • There's also Rob Dier in Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter, who we were led to believe was going to be the Big Damn Hero, only for him to die a pretty anticlimactic death.
  • The first Feast movie has the characters named "Hero" (Life Expectancy: Pretty Good. Occupation: Kicking Ass) and "Heroine" (Occupation: Wear tanktops, tote shotgun, save day. LIFE EXPECTANCY: Hopefully Better Than The Last Hero) both end up dying, the former a few minutes after being introduced. The second Heroine (Occupation: Career waitress, single mom. Life Expectancy: Expects nothing from life. upgraded to Occupation: Heroine #2. Life Expectancy: Let's hope for the best) is the one to make it through, even after her son is eaten. Needless to say, this movie loves subverting the Sorting Algorithm of Mortality.
  • Jim Ogilvie in the first of The Stepfather films. He spends most of the film looking for his sister's killer and in the end, when he does finally find the stepfather, he's knifed in the stomach before he can even pull his gun out.
  • Lucius Hunt is clearly the protagonist of The Village, right up until he is stabbed viciously and his blind girlfriend Ivy must make the journey to rescue him that takes up the rest of the film. Notably, this is the only plot twist in the film that isn't telegraphed very early on and actually feels twisty as a result.
  • A rare third-act POV switch in Death Becomes Her: Bruce Willis's character takes over as the protagonist, leaving the previous main characters played by Meryl Streep and Goldie Hawn sidelined until the movie's coda.
  • In Freddy's Dead the apparent main character confronts Freddy, telling him that he knows that he's his son. He promptly learns, the hard way, that Freddy had a daughter.
    • An even earlier Nightmare On Elm Street example is the very first movie: we're introduced to Freddy through Tina's dreams, hearing about Tina's fears in regards to the nightmares, and generally being led to believe that this movie will be about Tina's escape from Freddy. And then she's the first member of the group to die.
    • The 2010 remake employs a similar use of this trope. Kris is actually the second victim but most of the first twenty minutes focus on her and the actual heroine, though already introduced only becomes important after Kris is killed.
    • Elm Street Liked This trope. Part 4 starts out focusing on Kristen, the protaganist of Part 3, but she is rather quickly killed off and focus completely shifts to her best friend Alice.
  • In another Wes Craven film, the trailer for the first Scream movie had audiences assuming that Drew Barrymore's character Casey was a main character. She's killed in the first ten minutes.
    • Played with in the fourth film. Jill is set up as an Expy of her cousin Sidney, her actions mirroring those of Sidney in the first film, and everything seems to be on the way for her to become the Final Girl. Turns out she's the killer.
  • A Perfect Getaway. The seeming main characters are not only not the protagonists, they turn out to be the villains. The actual protagonists only show up twenty to thirty minutes into the film.
  • The Spectre of Freedom by Luis Bunuel does this repeatedly. (If you can call the characters protagonists in the first place...)
  • Most people assume that Aurora is the protagonist of Disney's Sleeping Beauty and get annoyed that she is so underdeveloped. It was planned for her to be a protagonist, but the final film has the three fairies as the protagonists and basically do most of the stuff for both Aurora and Phillip.
  • Ilios from Lucio Fulci's Conquest is The Chosen One, possesses one of the few bows in the film's world, and is on The Quest. He tends to screw up and gets rescued by his sidekick, Maxz. And then the minions of the Big Bad kill him and Maxz takes up his bow, completing the quest.
  • During the first 1/2 hour of The Boys from Brazil, it seems pretty clear that Barry (Steve Guttenberg) is the main character. Then he has a run in with some Nazis...
  • The slasher flick/cop movie Maniac Cop focuses largely on Detective Frank McCrae (Tom Atkins) as he tries to track down a killer who dresses as a police officer, for about the first forty-five minutes. Then the Detective is killed and the focus shifts to Officer Jack Forrest (Bruce Campbell) for the remainder of the movie.
  • The Hurt Locker opens with the focus on Thompson, played by Guy Pearce, who seems to be the hero until he dies and gets replaced with the real main character.
  • Unless you had seen the poster or trailer for the first Bring It On movie, the opening sequence would lead you to believe that Big Red is the main character. Then, mid-song, the focus shifts to Torrance. Granted, Torrance is there in the first part of the song too, but she's off to the side or in the background. No one dies, but it otherwise fits this trope.
  • Aziz in An American Carol. He doesn't die, but it is Michael who is the actual hero. Interestingly, Aziz is portrayed as a Villain Protagonist. Michael effectively replaces him, but is portrayed as a well-meaning, dim-witted Action Survivor.
  • Mindhunters: Christian Slater's character gets killed first.
  • Limitless has variation: a Decoy Secondary Protagonist. The first time we see Bradley Cooper (the protagonist) is him being dumped by his girlfriend (played by Abbie Cornish) which provokes a flashback to his ex-wife (played by Anna Friel) who dumped him years earlier. Since the very next character he meets his his ex-wife's brother and since Friel is a bigger name than Cornish the audience naturally assumes the ex-wife is going to be an important character. Friel gets one five minute scene hallway through the film and is never referenced again while Cornish ends up hooking back up with Cooper and playing an important, if supporting role.
  • At the end of Sucker Punch, the protagonist Baby Doll has a revelation that the movie isn't actually her story at all, but actually Sweet Pea's. She sacrifices her own freedom for Sweet Pea once she realizes she was only ever meant to be the catalyst for Sweet Pea's escape from the mental asylum.
  • The horror movie Scarecrow 2 started off with an older farmer telling a flashbacked story about how the titular monster murdered his father when he was a kid to a reporter. It sets up as if he's (one of) the main protagonist(s), but he's chopped up by the scarecrow to the point of Ludicrous Gibs while handcuffed to a hospital bed within 20 minutes of the opening credits.
  • Watch the first hour of The Return, and it's pretty clear that Ivan is the main character. Watch the final 20 minutes, and it's pretty clear that Andrei has taken over the role. According to Word of God, Andrei was the main character for the entire movie, but was metaphorically "hidden in the shadows" up until that point.
  • Both Tom and Jerry in Tom and Jerry: The Movie.
  • Detectives Danson and Highsmith in The Other Guys
  • In Saving Private Ryan, the audience is led to believe that the man entering the cemetery in the present day is Captain John Miller, and that the 95% of the film set in WWII is Miller's flashback. Then Miller dies in the final battle, and it's revealed that the man in the cemetery is actually Private James Ryan, who has spent the whole movie recalling the story of how Miller saved his life.
    • This is somewhat undermined however by the fact that Tom Hanks was twice Matt Damon's age. Anyone doing the math in their heads would be skeptical about 40ish Tom Hanks looking as relatively young as aged!Ryan does, given that he'd be well into his nineties.
  • In Blindness, it might appear at first the movie's main character would be the Japanese man, or the Doctor, but after a while it is made clear that the Doctor's Wife is the real main character of the story.
  • In One Day, given that the movie, at first, appears to focus primarily on Emma, she appears to be the protagonist. However, with about fifteen minutes of the film to go, she gets hit by a truck and dies, completely transferring the focus to Dexter.
  • In MacGruber, the title character assembles a super-team of secret agents. They are then promptly packed into a car then blown up, to be replaced by a rag-tag team consisting of MacGruber, Vicki St. Elmo and Dixon Piper.
  • A superhero appears at the beginning of Kick-Ass, prepared to make the dive of a skyscraper. He's hailed by a bad-ass soundtrack and the voice-over about superheroes. He dies from the fall. And the movie moves on.
  • A deleted opening for Atlantis the Lost Empire was actually going to make a team of Vikings the main characters of the movie. Cue the Leviathan sinking their ship, killing said Vikings, and causing the Shepherd's Journal to float away into the Atlantic Ocean...
  • Slither has a variation, in that it sets up Bill Pardy as being the quiet guy who will eventually become the kick-ass action hero when the situation requires it. Then, when the situation requires it, while neither incompetent nor cowardly Bill is clearly shown to be completely out of depth in what he's found himself embroiled in, he spends most of the movie completely bewildered and terrified by what's happening, and pretty much every opportunity he gets to be a Badass ends with him either completely screwing it up and getting his ass kicked or him running away.
  • Mike from Killer Klowns From Outer Space. He survives the whole movie, but his role as The Hero is usurped early on by Dave the policeman, who becomes the only character in the entire film to kill any of the klowns, and he never gets it back.
  • Done surprisingly well in Bollywood movie Dum Maaro Dum where the whole movie focuses on ACP Vishnu Kamath(Abhishek Bachchan)'s attempts to root out the drug traffickers. He suddenly gets killed by a corrupt cop about 3/4th into the movie and a supporting character DJ Joki(played by debutante Rana Daggubati) assumes the lead role and ends up foiling the Big Bad's plan
  • Although Jamie is clearly the main protagonist in Halloween 5, we're led to believe that Rachel will once again be at her side for the duration. She's one of the earliest victims in the film. Then, the annoying girl who you'd expect to die first (Tina) ends up outliving her friends (bar Jamie).
    • Jamie herself in Halloween 6. She is killed very early on in the movie.
    • Laurie Strode in Halloween: Ressurection. After being the main protagonist in 3 films, she's the first victim in the final outing.
      • These also classify as Sudden Sequel Death Syndrome.
  • The President's daughter from Spy Kids 2, whose prologue made the film look like if it was actually about her and her adventures at an amusement park full of wacky CGI rides.
  • Viggo Mortensen's character in Daylight, an adventurer who becomes the de-facto leader of the survivors, is killed while trying to look for an exit of the collapsed tunnel, coincidentally just as Sylvester Stallone's character arrives.
  • The Star Wars prequel trilogy is about Anakin Skywalker but he doesn't actually appear until half way through the first movie. For most of The Phantom Menace Qui-Gon Jinn seems like the main character.
  • Silver Tongues opens with Rachel and Alex, a newly married and already fraying young couple on their tense honeymoon. A few minutes in they run into a couple in their 40's and have dinner with them. The older couple turn out to be con artists who trick Rachel and Alex into believing they are swingers, manipulate the frustrations the younger couple have and leave the newlyweds with a seemingly broken marriage. The plot then sticks with the con artists as they run into other people - Rachel and Alex are never seen or mentioned again after the first act.
  • In Bram Stoker's Dracula, Jonathan Harker appears to be the heroic protagonist for the first quarter until the focus shifts to his fiancee Mina for the rest of the film and Jonathan fades into the background as a supporting character. Mina is even the one who vanquishes Dracula in the end.
  • Pitch Black had Carolyn who dies at the end and its Riddick who ends up starring in his own movie.


  • In Thomas Sniegoski's The Fallen, the first few pages revolve around a high school kid experiencing a bout of Heroic BSOD due to the fact that he's just gained superpowers and can now talk to animals. He's obviously the protagonist, right? Wrong. He gets torched by the big bad and is never mentioned again.
  • In the book Hexwood, we are first introduced to Ann Stavely, a 14-year-old-ish girl recovering from a long illness, who lives in a small town. About halfway through, the protagonist switches to a 20-something fashion designer from the heart of the galaxy. It turns out she was just hallucinating that she was the girl, Ann, due to the effects of a powerful magical artifact.
  • Brave New World features perhaps one of the most iconic examples of this: we are initially led to believe the protagonist of the story is Bernard Marx, as the novel focuses on him being a misfit in the World State and his questioning of its ideals. Then, as soon as Bernard and Lenina arrive at the Savage reservation, we are introduced to John the Savage and the novel focuses more and more on John while Bernard fades into the background.
    • This could actually be a double example - Lenina looks like she could be the protagonist at first, before Bernard is introduced.
  • The Diamond Age by Neal Stephenson features a particularly spiteful example: as the book begins, we're introduced to a thuggish cyberpunk protagonist straight out of the low-rent sci-fi movies of the late Eighties, complete with spiffy black leather clothes, skull-mounted nanotech weapons, and life of petty crime. Within a hundred pages he's been gruesomely executed for armed robbery, and his neglected four-year-old daughter turns out to be the book's real heroine.
  • Battle Royale tries to fool readers, making them think that Shinji Mimura will be the hero. He dies, and Shuya is obviously the hero after that point
  • A Song of Ice and Fire is a poster child for this trope, due to extensive use of Anyone Can Die:
    • Each and every prologue is told from the point of view of a character who turns out to be a Sacrificial Lamb, but that's just the warm-up.
    • The main act is Eddard Stark, the Lord of Winterfell and leader of the protagonist-heavy Stark family. While we see many points of view, the main action of the story centers around Lord Eddard; he gets loads of character development, hints at a fascinating past, the works. And then the Lannisters chop his head off.
    • To a lesser extent, Viserys Targaryen as well. In any "normal" fantasy story, he'd go through his Break the Haughty process and earn his throne through learned humility and wisdom. In this one, he gets his crown of gold, all right...
    • Robb Stark and the other victims of the Red Wedding.
    • Jon Snow and Stannis Baratheon both by the end of Book 5. Maybe.
  • Played straight in Ben Bova's Moonrise. The first half of the book has playboy astronaut Paul Stavenger as the main character, only to have him die about half way through. Following a Time Skip, Paul's arguably less interesting and Marty Stu-esque son assumes the role of protagonist.
  • Veil Sixclaw in Outcast of Redwall. The book's description talks about nothing but him and doesn't even mention the real protagonist. He's even on the front cover. So naturally, one would assume the story centers around him. It doesn't. Veil doesn't even exist in Part 1 of the story and he's a Jerkass in Part 2 (and gets banished for what he does). By Part 3 his subplot (which should've been the main plot) wasn't necessary to keep the book going, and at the end of the story he does a random "heroic" sacrifice for reasons not fully explained and dies.
  • In the first Marcus Didius Falco novel, the young female character who encounters Falco seems to be the second protagonist and then she's murdered and her aunt ends up as Falco's love interest and the second major character throughout the series.
    • The Course Of Honour appears to be Caenis' story, but in reality, it's the story of the rise of Vespasian, seen through Caenis' eyes.
  • Highly pronounced in Susanna Clarke's Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, where the titular Jonathan Strange is not introduced for 250 pages, before proceeding to gobble up most of the spotlight.
  • Though he doesn't die, in Guards! Guards! quite a few pages are spent making it look like Carrot is going to be the main character of the story, having all the traits of the classical hero, before Sam Vimes takes over as protagonist, not just of the book, but of the City Watch series.
    • This was how it was intended to be, before Terry Pratchett realised Vimes had more character and switched protagonists.
  • The Zero Game: The apparent protagonist is murdered four chapters in, with the narration switching to his friend.
  • In the Doctor Who novel Prisoner of the Daleks, Stella seems like a perfect companion figure for the Doctor, but she gets killed off by Chapter Three. This sets the Darker and Edgier tone for the book.
  • In the classic Greek Antigone, the titular character seems to be our main until... Well, she is a Tragic Hero. Creon, the only character to have appeared in all of the Theban plays, takes the spotlight. Ergo, trope is Older Than Feudalism.
  • In The Night of the Generals, during World War II, an officer of German military intelligence is investigating a series of murders of prostitutes, and comes to the conclusion that the killer is a German general. Two-thirds of the way through the book, he confronts the murderer, and is killed. Years later, a friend of his, who had a very small role in the story before this point, takes up the case and brings it to a successful conclusion.
  • Jack Vance's Lyonesse trilogy begins with the birth and upbringing of the spirited Princess Suldrun. At about the halfway point of book one, however, she dies. The rest of the series divides its focus amongst a number of other characters, including her lover, son and father.
  • Robert Silverberg's The Alien Years begins with an alien invasion from the perspective of a resourceful pilot. He's killed in the first chapter, and the rest of the novel focuses on his brother's family.
  • Orson Scott Card uses this at least a couple of times. In Xenocide, Qing-jao is the focus of the storyline on Path. She doesn't die, (she does have her OCD/godspoken-ness taken away though) but she's very handily displaced by Wang-mu towards the end of the book, and though Wang-mu appears as a main character in Children of the Mind, Qing-jao does not. Also, in Empire, we meet Reuben Malich, who is basically the hero of the whole book except he gets unceremoniously shot in the face about two-thirds the way through, and Cole has to finish his work. Bonus points for the paperback version of Empire because it happens right before a page turn.
  • Card also uses it, by degrees, in Hart's Hope, which begins centuries before the protagonist is born, with the story of a baron who overthrows his king. Orem, the hero, isn't born until roughly one-third into the 300 page novel.
  • The first chapter of The Phantom of the Opera novel centers around a Brainless Beauty named La Sorelli, who is given a disproportionate amount of detail describing her physical appearance, personality, and history for someone who turns out to be one of the most insignificant characters in the book. This is particularly Hilarious in Hindsight considering the losses the real heroine Christine endures to her personality in adaptations, reducing her to The Ingenue who vaguely resembles La Sorelli, personality-wise.
  • Andrew Phelan in The Trail of Cthulhu. It seems like he'll be something of a Supporting Protagonist or an Action Survivor, witnessing the bizarre goings on that may or may not be connected to his mysterious new employer, Professor Shrewsbury of Miskatonic University...but that's only for the first chapter. After this, he is no longer the POV character and eventually all-but-disappears entirely. He doesn't die, though, and considering this is a Cthulhu Mythos yarn, that's really saying something.
  • Arthur Machen's short story, "The Dover Road". The first two thirds of the story stars Professor Warburton as he tries to come to grips with a bizarre phenomenon he and his colleagues have witnessed. Warburton eventually gathers up enough evidence to come up with a rational-enough solution that completely satisfies him. The focus then turns to one of the other witnesses, Ian Tallent, who had previously taken up all of 2-3 sentences in the story. Ian notices that Warburton's proposed solution fails to address certain aspects of the case and spends the remainder of the story doing some investigating of his own.
  • Machen did this again in his novella, The Terror where he makes himself the main character for the first few chapters before being demoted to mere Greek Chorus.
  • Biographical example in Stranger Than Fiction the Life And Times of Split Enz. Author Mike Chunn leaves the titular band in chapter nine out of sixteen, before they even released their third album. Even still, he was only really a Supporting Protagonist up till that point.
  • From The Kingdoms of Evil: Pon, who appears to be a Farm Boy onhis way to seek his fortune. You know, before he's slaughtered.
  • Sara Douglass's Wayfarer's Redemption series takes an interesting take on this. The main protagonist of the first three volumes is Axis. Initially, it seems that his love interest is Faraday. However partway through the series, Axis falls in love with and marries Azhure, relegating Faraday to a supporting role. the first half ends on an apparently final note with Axis defeating Gorgrael, after Gorgrael kills Faraday and tears her body apart in a hopeless attempt to distract Axis. Then the second half begins with Axis retired and the kingdom in the hands of his eldest son Caelum. The first volume strongly pushes Caelum as the main protagonist, Only for him to be rather unceremoniously cut down by Qeteb, turning over the reins of the series to his disgraced younger brother, Dragon Star. Oh, and Faraday returns from the dead to become Drago's love-interest.
  • Margo Smith is the hero of the first Time Scout book. Skeeter Jackson steps in for the second and carries much of the rest of the series.
  • Eponymous character of Narrative Poem Pan Tadeusz (Sir Thaddeus) by Adam Mickiewicz, Tadeusz Soplica is set up to make readers belive he is the main character, but as the story progress it becomes more and more apparent that real protagonist is Preist Robak also known as infamous Jacek Soplica.
  • Shadow is technically the main character of American Gods, in that he is the viewpoint character, but his role in the story is largely the same as that of Alice; that is to say, he watches as the plot happens around him, occasionally pausing to say, "Gosh, that's unusual," but by and large he neither actively contributes to the plot unless deliberately roped into it by someone else nor does he react as though he seriously believes he's involved. It's really Mr. Wednesday's story at the end of the day (well, there's a strong argument that it's actually Mr. Nancy's, but he's letting Mr. Wednesday borrow it).
  • There are two of these in the Mistborn series. In the first book, though the main viewpoint character is Vin, the story is about Kelsier and his rebellion. Then he dies and Vin takes on the main protagonist role. It happens again in Hero of Ages when Vin sacrifices herself to destroy Ruin and it turns out that the story was really about Sazed becoming The Chosen One.
  • The focus in Wraeththu shifts from Pellaz who becomes a king, to Swift who grows up to defy his father, to Cal, a side character who turns out to be the key to everything.
  • While he is not a point of view character until the third book and then only part of the time Valraven in Chronicles of Magravandias is the true protagonist of the story. The story shifts from his sister to his second wife, to a peasant boy, but the focus of the story is always Valraven.
  • Jin Yong loves this trope. A majority of his Wuxia novels start around an apparent protagonist, only to reveal (sometimes several chapters later) that it is not. First comes to mind should be The Smiling Proud Wanderer (笑傲江湖) when the audience should be fooled to view Lin Pingzhi as the protagonist while it is actually Linghu Chong.
  • In The Walking Dead Rise of the Governor, the two main characters are Philip and his ineffectual brother. Philip is the name of the Governor in the comics and it seems apparent that the novel is about him. Before it ends, however, Philip is killed and Brian takes on his name. Thus, the story was about him.
  • The original novel version of The Unholy Three has the titular, murderous three as the main characters until the fourth or fifth chapter; afterward, the focus switches to a young man named Hector who has the misfortune of crossing paths with the three. Averted in the movie adaptation (coincidentally Lon Chaney Sr's only sound picture), where the focus remains on the three even after Hector is introduced.
  • In Un Lun Dun, Zanna is at first set up as The Chosen One, but is quickly incapacitated and disappears for the rest of the story, forcing Deeba to take her place.
  • In the first Empire of the Ants book, the Ants part of the story starts from the perspective of a young male named 327, and follows him as he forms a team with female 56 and asexual warrior 103683... he is killed in the middle of the book, and his two partners take over as the main characters. And again later, 56 becomes queen and is reduced to secondary character then killed, while 103683 serves as the main character for the remaining of the trilogy.

Live Action TV

  • Generally in stories in which a character is sent to a horrible alternate universe, they can be presumed to be the protagonist of that story. Except when it's Buffy's "The Wish", in which case poor Cordelia gets killed halfway through and the story moves on without her.
    • This has the delicious bonus of completely averting the Be Careful What You Wish For aesop as her death and subsequent snapback at the end of the episode means she learns absolutely nothing from the experience.
    • Plot point played for laughs in the opening of Superstar where Jonathan gets top billing as the result of his demonic ritual giving him Gary Stu powers and popularity.
  • Dead Like Me also has an example of decoy main character with Betty who is introduced as one of the Grim Reapers in Rube's band. However, in the fifth episode she jumps into a vortex into the afterlife, hitching a ride into the afterlife with one of the souls George had reaped and is never seen again. This is like her death in the series as she was already dead when it started. She is replaced by Daisy Adair in the next episode.
    • Unfortunately this was not a planned Decoy Protagonist, but rather a case of Executive Meddling / Real Life Writes the Plot. The actress playing Betty was involved in the accidental death of a young child, and the studio decided to drop her as they felt it looked bad to have an actress responsible for the death of a child to be playing a Reaper.
  • Jack from Lost was originally meant to be one of these, and Michael Keaton was going to play him for the single episode to reinforce the audience's assumption that he was the main character. Executives decided that the audience would feel betrayed and tune out if he was promptly killed. Keaton dropped out when the characters was rewritten into a regular cast member.
  • An early Lexx episode begins with a man drifting through space in a small shuttle, playing a radio message which details his backstory and the plight of his home planet "Gworim". Then the Lexx runs him right over, and nobody even notices due to his comparatively small size.
    • In the very first episode Brian Bostwick play Thodin the leader of the rebellion. He would have been the obvious hero if it had been the type of story to have that sort of thing.
  • Non-death example: The Thick of It begins with a minister entering his office, greeting his staff, and getting ready for a meeting with Malcolm. Then, in the meeting, Malcolm suddenly forces him to resign. Quick cut, and the new minister (and the show's protagonist) appears. Basically, rather than Anyone Can Die, this is Anyone Can Be Sacked.
  • Non-protagonist example: Kowalski from Stargate SG-1 was originally played as a member of the team, likely to be a main character, if not exactly The Hero. He got more screentime in Children of the Gods than Teal'c, who went on to be in the most episodes of any cast member. But Kowalski was killed in the second episode. Go figure.
    • Kowalski suffering from this is even more surprising considering he was the only character from the original movie, other than Jack O'Neil and Daniel Jackson, that was in a position to actually be a major character.
    • Colonel Sumner from Stargate Atlantis.
  • The Wire features an extended example: in the first season, D'Angelo Barksdale is the POV character for the criminal side of Baltimore, as McNulty is for the cop side. However, he's killed off early in the second season, while McNulty lasts through the entire show and other criminal figures step into the spotlight. This seems natural, as Baltimore drug dealers tend to live short lives.
  • The pilot of CSI centred around Holly Gribbs, only to have her get shot in the end and die in the next episode.
  • As mentioned in the Literature example above, Eddard Stark in Game of Thrones. Oh boy, never has Contractual Immortality been averted so hard.
  • Multiple layer example in the first episode of Saul Of The Molemen. The opening credits feature S.T.A.R. Team who promptly dies seconds later in a meteor shower. Follows the replacement credits for Johnny Tambourine... who is a complete moron. Then opening credits for The Molemen (as a funyn sitcom)... and finally the real credits for Saul himself.
  • Season 15 of The Amazing Race had Zev & Justin, who, when compared to similar editing of teams in previous seasons, appeared to be set up for a run late into the race, including a burgeoning rivalry with Maria & Tiffany, that is until they lost a passport in leg 4.
  • Partially subverted in the "giant blancmange" sketch during episode seven of Monty Python's Flying Circus since while Mr. and Mrs. Samuel Brainsample weren't the main characters, they were responsible for the destruction of the blancmange at Wimbledon.


  • The music video for Weird Al's "White and Nerdy" (parody of Chamillionaire's "Ridin'") started out with two black gangsters riding a car before they meet a nerd mowing his lawn. From there, the focus was on the nerd.

Video Games

  • In L.A. Noire for the last three missions, control is switched over to his fellow marine Jack Kelso, who investigates the Suburbian Redevelopment Group as Cole is stonewalled by the corrupt police department. Cole is later killed in the final mission, and a flashback of Kelso ends the story.
    • One of the rare occurances where the decoy protagonist is playable most of the game. However, the story is really how Cole's drive as a marine and a detective spurred Kelso to do the right thing and that Jack had a lot to learn from his rival, who was neither his friend nor his enemy.
  • Harry Mason seems to be the protagonist of Silent Hill 1 at first, but as the game goes on it becomes clear that the main focus is on Alessa Gillespie. Harry actually has very little importance to the plot, until he kills Alessa. In two of the endings, at least.
    • Silent Hill 4 has two examples of this. You start the game playing as Joseph Schreiber, gone mad from The Room's influence. After the prologue, you start playing as Henry Townshend... who still turns out not to be the protagonist, as most of the game focuses on Walter Sullivan.
      • So much so that to date Henry's the only Silent Hill protagonist to have nothing to do with the outline and inhabitants of the game's Otherworlds, which are taken strictly from Sullivan's unconscious.
    • Happens again in Silent Hill Origins. Travis crashes his car at the edge of the titular town and stumbles right into the tangle of events surrounding what happened to Alessa (though of course he does have to deal with his own problems as well).
    • And again more famously in Silent Hill: Shattered Memories. The game switches back and forth between a first-person therapy session set in the present and third-person gameplay starring Harry Mason, making it look like Harry's reminiscing of Silent Hill while under therapy. The end reveals that the patient was Cheryl, Harry's daughter, and that the third-person PC was but a figment of Cheryl's imagination, distraught over her father's death many years ago. The therapy sessions weren't meant to cure Harry's trauma, but Cheryl's denial over Harry's death.
  • In Everlong, the main character Brad was... well, the main character, until he suddenly vanishes as the evil spirits within him took over him, causing him to because Brainwashed and Crazy, take a Face Heel Turn and end up being killed by the Big Damn Heroes. Ohnoes.
  • Infamously, Solid Snake in Metal Gear Solid 2.
  • To some, it isn't immediately apparent that you're playing as Chaz in Phantasy Star IV, rather than Alys.
  • Kingdom Hearts II. Roxas. Provided the cover art isn't a giveaway, anyway.
    • Likewise in Birth By Sleep, Ven resembles Sora and Roxas in several ways, but the plot actually revolves more around Terra, and Aqua does the more traditional heroic deeds.
  • In Star Wars: Rogue Squadron 2, you start out playing as Luke Skywalker for two and a half missions, but when Luke's Snowspeeder gets shot down in the Battle of Hoth he gets replaced by Wedge Antilles, on Hoth and in subsequent missions. As we know, this is because while Luke survived, he didn't regroup with the others, so it was up to Wedge to lead Rogue Squadron.
  • Locke of Final Fantasy VI, while Terra gets the main focus of the story in the World of Balance, its Locke that is in the traditional protagonist role. He is locked into the party for most of the game's first half and plays a role in both Terra's and Celes's stories. However, Celes becomes the protagonist in the World of Ruin and while Terra gets forced into the ending if you don't recruit her, Locke can miss the ending entirely. He is one of the last and hardest to find party members you re-recruit and his role is diminished quite a bit in the second half. While Kitase said that there is no main characters, it's Terra and Celes that come the closest to it.
  • Final Fantasy X has Tidus say in the beginning "Listen to my story". You then spend most of the game hearing about Yuna and her pilgrimage, Yuna and her Aeons, Yuna's duty and her goal .. until you reach Zanarkand. This is when Tidus really screws the rules and became more the leader. Not insignificantly, Yuna eventually says "This is our story."
  • In Final Fantasy XII, Reks, a level 3 soldier and the brother of the protagonist, is this as you briefly control him through the castle, and fight empire enemies in attempt to save the king during the prologue.
    • Basch was originally supposed to be the main protagonist. Vaan was added to the game later to appeal to the main demographic of the game. The developers didn't really bother to alter the story significantly when he was added. The scene where Reks dies and sets up Vaan's motivation is also the same scene that sets up Basch's motivation. Also, very little actually happens from the start of the game to when Basch shows up.
      • Considering the story, Vaan is called the protagonist only because he is the first permanent character the player gets. Period.
      • That, and considering that the story is actually mostly about Ashe...
      • And Balthier being the "Leading Man"? Man, FFXII is just crammed with Decoy Protagonists...
  • It could be argued that this is pulled with Golden Sun's Isaac, despite the fact he doesn't die. You begin the first game controlling him as a silent protagonist, only for the second game to shift POV to Felix, revealing that his quest was the one saving the world, making Isaac a Decoy Protagonist who is actually an antagonist (unwittingly). Then, at Jupiter Lighthouse, the whole situation is explained to Isaac, and he joins forces with Felix for the finale.
  • Joseph Allen in Modern Warfare 2, who is killed off in his second playable mission after leaping the Moral Event Horizon. Also implied with Gary 'Roach' Sanderson, whose role as a playable character seems to be to show off how Badass 'Soap' MacTavish has become. Confirmed when Roach had a metaphorical bridge dropped on him so the rest of the game could be told from Soap's perspective.
    • The first Modern Warfare game has Sgt. Paul Jackson, who seems like he's going to be a second protagonist for the entire game until he's killed by a nuke. After this, the story focuses entirely on Soap's squad.
    • Practically exaggerated in Modern Warfare 3; the game has three decoy protagonists. The first is Derek 'Frost' Westbrook, who's the decoy decoy protagonist. His missions aren't of any critical importance to the A plot, but he doesn't die along with the rest of his squad by the end of the game. The real decoy protagonist is Yuri, who used to be Makarov's partner until his Heel Face Turn. (Guess what happens in the end?) And then there's Soap, who was the original protagonist in the first two game's after the decoy protagonists were killed. But in this game, he dies before you even have the chance to play as him. So who's the real protagonist in the series? Captain Price. You only get to play as him once.
  • Done twice in Baten Kaitos, first when it's revealed that Kalas is The Dragon, and Xelha takes over, and then second when Kalas experiences a Heel Face Turn and rejoins your party.
  • The Prelude to The Godfather game starts with you playing Johnny Trapani, but he gets gunned down within minutes. The real player character is his son after a Time Skip.
  • Total Overdose pulls this twice. The first level is an older man... who is neutralized mysteriously. Then it's his son, who gets laid up in the hospital. Then it's the twin brother who takes up the guns and starts shooting everything.
  • In Hybrid Heaven, you begin the game as Diaz. Except you are not Diaz, you're just in his body and get yours back about an eighth of the way through the game. Diaz is, in fact, a major villain.
  • Yggdra Union starts out with a princess running for dear life from an enemy army, accidentally costing the leader of a band of thieves his fortress, and begging him to help her take her country back. Although you start out playing as thief Milanor and this looks like your classic Luke-and-Leia setup, Princess Yggdra becomes the player character very shortly after. Milanor himself remains a completely static character until the penultimate chapter, and is shunted into the role of mentor and sidekick. (The player does take control of him during certain points of the story where Yggdra isn't where the action is, however.)
    • Milanor's presence in the story at all, compared to his relative unimportance to the plot, is probably due to the need for a surrogate for male players—who might be uncomfortable at the idea of playing a game from the perspective of a (very feminine) girl.
  • Taken to a ridiculous extent in Kuon. For nearly the entire game, you have two phases—yin and yang—to choose from, each starring a different girl. By the time you've completed them both, one protagonist is a zombie and the other one is almost dead. The true hero of the game is Abe no Seimei, an exorcist who is only been mentioned in passing up to the point you start playing her phase.
  • The opening cutscene of Company of Heroes shows a group of American soldiers landing on Omaha Beach. They bravely charge the beach only to get mowed down to the last man. Then a second landing craft comes in, and it's these guys who turn out to be the protagonists.
  • Fatal Frame 1 and 4 do this. Mafuyu is a playable character in the intro chapter of the first game, then spends the rest of the game wandering around Himuro mansion while his younger sister Miku takes over as the main character. Likewise, Madoka is the first playable character of the fourth game, but she is killed at the end of the prologue chapter and goes on to become one of the hostile spirits who the other protagonists (Ruka, Misaki, and Choushiro) have to fight at some point.
  • Steambot Chronicles does a variant of this trope. In the optional tutorial stage, you play as Mallow, the hero's childhood friend.
  • The Fourth installment of Fire Emblem takes this up to 11. Sigurd is a decoy for his son, Celice. Moreover, the rest of Sigurd's army dies with him, making your entire army a decoy. The Big Bad pulls a huge win making the chapter a hopeless level.
    • It does it during the tenth game as well. Despite taking place in the post-Path of Radiance world, the most mention of Ike is that he's the father of Sothe's children. It seems that Micaiah is the main character of this game. Then part 2 rolls around, with Queen Elincia and her gang. Then Ike shows up and kicks ass, as usual. THEN you get his story, which leads into a plot about killing a goddess. Guess who gets shifted pretty much Out of Focus for the rest of the game? No points for guessing Micaiah. That's right. The main character isn't even mentioned IN THE GAME MANUAL.
  • At first glance, Sonic Battle is about Sonic and his friends messing around with Emerl, a cool robot that mimics their combat abilities. As the cast rotates babysitting Emerl and he starts developing an emergent personality, it gradually becomes apparent that Emerl is really the protagonist. The majority of Cream's and Shadow's chapters near the end of the game are played as Emerl, and the final chapter is his solo attempt to stop Eggman's plot.
  • Played with in Chrono Trigger, depending on how the game is played. The main character, Crono, dies halfway through the game. The player has the choice of either going back in time and preventing his death or continuing the game without him.
  • Agarest Senki has Leonhardt himself. He is the protagonist of the first generation, but when you finish his chapter, he gets to be sealed in a pillar with the three Love Interests. Then his son Ladius gets to be the protagonist of his chapter but also gets sealed after his chapter is done with his three Love Interests. Same thing happens to Thoma and Duran in the third and fourth generation. Duran's son Rex then becomes THE TRUE protagonist for the rest of the game itself.
  • In Dead Space Extraction, you first play as a mining employee, who first notices the necromorphs showing up. At the end of the first level, he's killed and his mantle of PC is taken up by the leader of the expedition that killed him.
  • Done brutally in Halo: Reach where Noble Six has the same combat rating as Master Chief and, like John, is also chosen by Cortana to be her carrier. Unfortunately, Six dies on Reach, affirming a comment Cortana made in Halo 3. What separates Six and John is luck.
    • Master Chief also has far more combat experience than Noble Six, being a SPARTAN-II who's been in the military for about 35 years, as opposed to Six's 13 years as a SPARTAN-III.
  • Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors has Junpei. Notably, he's still the main character, but just before the final puzzle it is revealed that you have been playing as Akane, not him, for the entire game.
  • Persona 2 starts out with five protagonists: Tatsuya, Michel, Ginko, Maya, and Yukki. However, Yukki ends up being a decoy protagonist for Jun, a.k.a. Joker, who joins your party near the end of the game.
  • The prologue of Xenoblade introduces Dunban, a legendary hero who is the only one who can wield the famous Monado sword. Then there's a Time Skip, and he's retired after losing the use of his right arm. We then meet Shulk, the game's actual protagonist. Unlike most examples of this trope, not only does he not die, but he also later becomes a powerful party member in his own right, using a katana with his left arm to fight.
  • Fate Extra has one of the most tragic uses of this in recent videogame history. You spend the prologue playing as an average high school student who quickly gets swept up in the Holy Grail War. Depending on how many optional scenes you unlock, he manages to discover several secrets that are crucial to the future plot. Then, when the time comes for his trial in the prelims, he fails miserably. As in, he isn't even able to get a single attack before the enemy Servant effortlessly cuts him down. The prologue ends with the dying student tearfully begging that someone, anyone will remember who he was. The most tragic part is, thanks to how Eliminations in the War work, no one ever will.

Tabletop RPG

  • The D&D adventure Vecna Lives! famously pulled this one. The players start in the roles of the Circle Of Eight, the most powerful archmages in the world—guys who have spells in the rulebook named after them. But the very first encounter is a Hopeless Boss Fight, all the archmages end up dead, and the players must switch to a less-powerful backup team and still save the day.


  • Jaller was one of these twice in Bionicle- once for Takua/Takanuva (in-universe more than to the audience, since everyone else thought that he was The Chosen One aside from himself and Takua), and the other for Matoro. The first time, he got killed (but got better), and the second time was something of a subversion as Matoro performed a Heroic Sacrifice, causing the real hero to die instead of the decoy.


  • In The Mitadake Saga [dead link], we're initially led to believe that Zaraki Yagami is the protagonist. He's the first character we focus on and the first chapter is about him getting a weapon to defend himself with. Then, just as he's done so, he suddenly drops dead of a heart attack, showing the real protagonist, Zero Nanaya, the true weight of the situation.
  • Invoked in Sluggy Freelance here

"What is this? A sci-fi thriller or a goofy buddy movie?"

Web Original

Western Animation

  • The Aeon Flux short "War" is built around this trope. It begins by following Aeon Flux, who is quickly shot to death. The story then follows a quick succession of new "protagonists," each displaying typical lead character traits before getting unceremoniously killed.
  • The Simpsons does this regularly. Often the episode starts out with a plot that seems to be going one direction, but then a side detail creates a new plot that may focus on different characters. For instance, the episode "A Milhouse Divided" starts out centered on Milhouse's parents' divorce, but when Homer and Marge begin to have similar marital troubles, the narrative changes to revolve around them instead.
    • Also, in "Blood Feud," when Mr. Burns is dying, only Bart has a matching blood type to transfuse to save him. Later, Bart is sent only a thank you note and Homer steals the rest of the episode when he objects to Mr. Burns' minimal reward and sends an insulting letter to his boss. From then on, Bart becomes nothing more than his dad's sidekick, and doesn't do anything significant except for a prank call to Moe's Tavern.
  • Titan Maximum did this with the promos, where both Spud and Gibbs were shown as part of the cast. But in the first episode, Spud was Killed Off for Real and Gibbs had a Face Heel Turn.
  • Subverted in the King of the Hill episode, Aisle 8A. Bobby is the main character for the first act, then the focus shifts to Hank for the second act, and finally back to Bobby in the third act.
  • Promotional artwork for Transformers Prime showed a team of six Autobots. One of them, Cliffjumper, was the star of the comic released before the show debuted, and was also announced to be voiced by fan-favourite Dwayne Johnson. The first five minutes of the show follow Cliffjumper as he finds the Decepticons have arrived on Earth...and then he gets stabbed through the chest by Starscream. The other bots end up being a traditional Five-Man Band.
  • ReBoot could be subversion, when Bob went MIA during the Web World Wars and focused on Enzo growing up with AndrAIa. Until Bob returns and forms with Glitch.
  • Mickey Mouse in Pluto's Judgement Day. Despite the short claiming that Mickey is the main character, it's actually his dog Pluto that is the main focus of this short. Mickey actually punishes Pluto for chasing a cat around his house, and as a result the dog starts to have a nightmare about him going to Hell.
  • From episode 1, Xiaolin Showdown sets up Omi as The Hero. For awhile, this is undoubtedly the case; he is the most skilled, gets the most attention, and gets the most opportunities to save his teammates. As the series goes on, he still gets the most attention (including special training from Season 2's Big Bad), plus the ego to show for it and the most Nice Job Breaking It, Hero moments, so that by the start of Season 3 he's the one being saved, and Raimundo is The Hero in all but name. Subtly played, but quite a few viewers saw the finale and Raimundo being named team leader coming a season away.
  • Played in a similar manner for Rufus in The Dreamstone with the pilot episodes establishing his role as assistant to the Dream Maker and having Took a Level in Badass to stop Zordrak. While some early episodes still play with this idea, the spotlight slowly drifts towards the Urpneys and Rufus' competence and pathos dwindle in favor of making him a Hero Antagonist no more significant than the other residents of the Land Of Dreams.
  1. It's the kid.