The Wasteland Elder is the de facto leader of his small, rundown community. Maybe it's After the End, it could be a Western frontier town fallen on hard times, or even just a Tent Town for squatters in the middle of a city. No one elected him, he never put his name in a sorting hat, nor does he push his leadership on his people, he's simply an old survivor and respected enough that his word carries weight. Male pronouns are used throughout this trope, but this is an equal opportunity character.
If there's an actual mayor, he's either corrupt or been forced to help the Big Bad. When The Hero comes to town, it's usually the Wasteland Elder who serves as Mr. Exposition and asks him for help. If the story is about empowering normal people, or The Hero needs help taking down the Big Bad, he's the one who rallies the Untrusting Community to take up arms and become a Posse. With a little luck, they won't be Dying Like Animals any longer.
Once the Big Bad is beat, the Wasteland Elder usually rallies his constituents to start working to improve their town, thanking The Hero for all they've done and offering them a more permanent home if he's The Drifter.
- The very first episode of Fist of the North Star contains a Wasteland Elder when Kenshiro, dehydrated, meanders into a remote village in search of water and later encounters him.
- A more important character, Shuu, is also a Wasteland Elder, albeit more Badass than most.
- In the second story arc of Ergo Proxy, Hoody plays the role of the Wasteland Elder, though he bears a more flawed and human personality than others, and not everyone in the commune respects his word.
- Though not of a wasteland, the elder of Paradise Lily is the first one to trust Luffy, and tries to convince the other villagers to trust him while they're following the law of the land and trying to kill him.
- Much of the conflict in the first episode of Gurren Lagann revolves around Simon and Kamina going against the elder of their village, who is preventing them from achieving Kamina's goal of going to the surface. Later, the team is joined by Dayakka, the elder of another village.
- The narrators in the second and third Mad Max films are later shown to be grown versions of two children in the films.
- Pappagallow of the second film also counts.
- The Old Man in The Magnificent Seven is probably the ur-example for the Western.
- The Old Woman in Terminator Salvation among the unfriendly survivors in the 7-11 gas station that Kyle Reese, Marcus Wight, and Star encounter after leaving Los Angeles. She and her clan get about two minutes of development and exposition before their "village" is squished by giant robots.
- Ethan in World Gone Wild is this, with more than a bit of Trickster Mentor thrown in.
- In the 2009 animated Astro Boy movie, Astro runs into what appears to be one of these in junkyard city. Turns out he's more than that, and pretty well known for mech cockfighting with an absurdly large audience, which is against Astro's beliefs. He also betrays Astro for being a robot.
- Edgar Friendly in Demolition Man is a weird version of this. The "wasteland" consists of an underground community in the sewers of San Angeles where people have gone to escape the benign tyranny on the surface. Friendly has no desire to be a leader, but he's the one everyone listens to.
- In the Strugatsky Brothers' novel Prisoners of Power, the mutant settlement on the southern frontier of the Fatherland have several, and a council formed thereby, but by far the most authoritative of them is a short, prematurely-aged man named "the Wizard", who is an outright genius, not to mention able to mind-control small animals. He and the others manage to keep the mutants alive, but between the various sicknesses and the increasingly horrible mutated lifeforms around them the future seems bleak. And the heroes really can't do anything to help, although the mutants still let them stay and later give them a super plane.
- Tom Barnard from Kim Stanley Robinson's The Wild Shore is the only member of the post-apocalyptic South Orange County community who remembers the Old Days before The War.
- Arguably, Bard of Esgaroth in The Hobbit. The democratically elected Master of the village of Laketown is cowardly, miserly, and is tricky with words. Bard, though initially not taken very seriously by the people at large due to his tendency to forecast dire things, comes to be admired by all after he kills Smaug. Later, the people choose to follow Bard rather than the Master, and Bard becomes King of Esgaroth, and his line holds this office for many generations. Granted, Laketown is a prosperous community and not quite a wasteland community, but it lies on the very edge of the Desolation of Smaug in the shadow of the Lonely Mountain.
- Mother Abagail in Stephen King's post-apocalyptic novel The Stand . Although the community of Boulder has a democratically elected government, everyone still respects her for her age and wisdom nonetheless.
- Doctor Who: In "Daleks of Manhattan" Solomon leads a Hoovervile in Central Park.
- Jack in Lost seems to have fallen into this position, although the degree to which he brought it on himself is debatable.
- Played with a bit in that as time goes on, uncertainty in his leadership grows until several members of the group break off and head out with Locke to stay on the island.
- Subverted in the Twilight Zone episode "On Thursday We Leave for Home". Captain Benteen is the leader of the surviving colonists on the desert planet, who keeps them together and keeps their hopes up by telling them that there will be a ship coming from Earth to take them back home. But when that ship finally arrives, Benteen is less than willing to give up his position of leadership and authority, and tries to obstruct the efforts of the rescuers and keep them from taking "his people" back to Earth.
- Played straight then subverted in "The Old Man in the Cave." A town is managing to survive After the End by following the directions of a hermit living in a cave in the nearby hills, who sends his instructions through more traditional Wasteland Elder. Then a group of really asshole soldiers show up and storm the cave, revealing the hermit to be a computer that the real Wasteland Elder had been using to determine what food and areas were radioactive and therefore to be avoided. The soldiers and townspeople destroy in a fit of rage. After that, of course, they all die from not being able to tell what's radioactive or not.
- There are numerous examples in the Fallout series of computer games; Killian Darkwater, the shopkeeper/sheriff/mayor of Junktown, to name one. In Fallout 2 it's established that the Player Character of the first game eventually became one.
- The elder from 2300 AD in Chrono Trigger qualifies.
- King Damas in Jak and Daxter 3 fits this trope to a T, except for the fact that, as a Proud Warrior Race Guy, he and the citizens of Spargus City have taken up arms against the Marauders long before the main character arrives. And the fact that he doesn't survive to see the rebuilding.
- One such elder runs the city in Crimson Tears, asking you from time to time to donate money toward its renovation.
- Talgeyl in Suikoden V plays this almost perfectly straight. Sadly, he's too pessimistic about his town's future to even ask for help when The Hero shows up, though he does later take a turn Training the Peaceful Villagers.
- Dominic Deegan Oracle for Hire: After the death of the mayor of Barthis and destruction of the town in a horrific necromantic attack, Pamela Chayler becomes the unofficial town spokeswoman and stands up to slimy businessman Serk Brakkis. She's later officially elected mayor, and not only gets the town rebuilt but adds cultural institutions and lowers the crime rate.