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You know, I'd really like to know how the "almighty Despot" looks. I mean, why is it that nobody has ever even seen a picture of the guy who runs our city!?
Civilian The Nameless Mod

They rule the entire city/country/world/galaxy... but has anyone ever seen them?

May not exist at all, or could be dead. The Man Behind the Curtain is also possible. Overlaps with No One Sees the Boss, which deals with the overarching conspiracy surrounding our mystery person.

Examples of Shadow Dictator include:

Anime and Manga

  • Ribbons Almark in Mobile Suit Gundam 00.
    • Revealed in season two.
  • The Principal in the School Rumble manga.
  • Pain starts out as one. He rules the Hidden Rain Village as a god after annihilating everyone even remotely associated with the old leader, but nobody's ever actually met him in person.
  • By the second season of Death Note, most of the world's countries have declared their support for Kira, and the United States eventually backs down and obeys his orders. Japan doesn't, however.


  • Inspired by 1984, the Father from Equilibrium. Though we do see broadcasts featuring him, They are faked, since the original Father died, and Du Pont was chosen to replace him.
  • In The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, few of his own people had ever seen the wizard, and those who claimed to have seen him disagreed as to who or what they'd seen. He turns out to be his own Man Behind the Man, using special effects to create an illusionary appearance.
  • While not a world leader, Dr. Mabuse in Dr. Mabuse the Gambler and its sequels has a vast crime network that allows him to control the economy of pre-WWII Germany. Mabuse goes mad at the end of the first movie. In The Testament of Dr. Mabuse someone follows the "manual of crime" he scrawls in the madhouse before he dies. Subsequent movies, not as good, feature would-be masterminds copying his methods.


  • In 1984, Big Brother is never seen in person, yet his face is worshiped throughout Oceania.
  • Lord Azzur, ruler of Port Blacksand in the Fighting Fantasy gamebooks.
  • Monstrous Regiment: The sovereign of Borogravia is the Duchess, who has not been seen in decades. It is eventually revealed that she died some time ago, but her spirit has remained as a harassed demi-goddess because the citizens of the country have gotten in the habit of praying to her.
  • Malkariss in the Redwall series only communicates by speaking to The Dragon Nadaz through his statue, refusing to let anyone see him directly. When we find out what he actually looks like, he turns out to be weak and crippled, making him The Man Behind the Curtain.
  • The Real President of the Galaxy in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.
  • Adam Selene, leader of the Lunar revolution, in The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress. Actually the virtual avatar of the supercomputer AI Mycroft Holmes, aka "Mike".

Live-Action TV

  • Wolfram and Hart's "Senior Partners" in Angel.
  • On Lost the Others follow the orders of Jacob who only talks to Ben. Locke suspects that Jacob is not real and Ben is the one really giving orders. Jacob is real and quite powerful but Ben was actually tricked into following the orders of the Man in Black.

Tabletop Games

  • The "ruler" of Sigil the Lady of Pain in Planescape is seen partially, but direct interaction tends to be a bad idea.
    • The Silent King of the Dead Nations is never seen by anyone but Hargrimm, who speaks for him. Because the Silent King is dead, and the Dead Nations would collapse if anyone knew this.
  • The God-Emperor of Mankind in Warhammer 40000.
    • Though this is a strange example because the only people who see him as this are very Unreliable and at the same time he also is influencing the situation in the Imperium by causing Warpstorms and stopping Chaos through his still incredible power.
  • The Dark Powers from Ravenloft.

Video Games

  • Despot in The Nameless Mod is never seen, doesn't use an avatar when he PMs people and leaves everything to his second in command Ghand, but as he is a Cloudcuckoolander things fall to the de facto second in command, King Kashue.
  • The ruler of Tolbi city, Lord Babi from Golden Sun. Even though the heroes get to see him in the game, very few normal people actually see the old geezer themselves
  • The Shi Emperor in Fallout 2 Turns out to be an advanced non-AI computer used to advise the actual ruler: Ken Lee, officially a representative of and advisor to the Emperor.
  • In Gratuitous Space Battles, the leader of the Empire has apparently become this, at least officially:

 The current emperor took power over 1,100 years ago, and despite coming from a species whose lifespan rarely exceeds 100, the official line is that he merely 'under the weather' which is why he is no longer seen in public.


Web Comics

  • In Drowtales, no one has seen Queen Val'Sharess Diva'ratrika Val'Sharen for 16 years. She is dead and three of her daughters, who arranged her death, now rule as the Man Behind the Man. They pulled this off because Diva was already well known for liking solitude, though the illusion is starting to crack...Oh, and you know 'Blueberry'? That's her!
    • However, both the Sullisin'rune and the Sarghress factions know what's up, and the other factions seem to have suspected it as well. Aside from Liriel/Ragini.
  • In Sluggy Freelance, His Masterness, the ruler of 4U City, fulfilled this trope for quite some time. He was eventually revealed to be that universe's Riff, succeeding that universe's Schlock.
  • The king of Legara in Looking for Group has not been seen for years resulting in some suspicion among the upper ranks of his Legion. He was eventually revealed to be an immortal Tavor who had inherited the throne by killing the previous king. Why he had gone into seclusion is uncertain, though it may have been an attempt to avoid being recognized by Cale.

Real Life

  • Comedians joked about this with former U.S. vice president Dick Cheney, who allegedly spent a significant portion of his term at 'an undisclosed location'.
  • For years many people suspected that Osama Bin Laden was already dead and his terrorist organization was controlled by others. This was proven wrong in 2011 when US troops stormed his compound in Pakistan and killed him.
  • Kim Jong-il's voice has only ever been broadcast once, for seven seconds at a 1992 military rally. His speeches are usually read out on radio or television by actors. In 2008, it was claimed that he had died in 2003 of diabetes and had been replaced by a body double at public appearances. There were also rumors that, even if he was still alive, he was extremely sick and not exercising power. He was even Photoshopped (badly) into a photo of some soldiers. He nominated his son Kim Jong-un as successor in 2010 and made a few public appearances, quashing rumors of his death.
    • Then died for real in December of 2011.