Archetypal Antagonists for the Queen Arc: Invader and Empty Throne

As the third of the life cycle’s archetypal character arcs, the Queen Arc is that of the mature adult who has completed the youthful arcs of Hero and Maiden and is now challenged to grow into a position of greater responsibility and leadership. This is the tale of someone who has so far proven herself worthy of love and responsibility in relationship, community, and perhaps parenthood. But now life calls for a further transformation—into capably accepting a true position of power.

The Queen Arc can be seen to come after the well-known Hero Arc both mythically in the sense that “what happens after” the Hero Arc is often the victorious Hero being given a position of leadership. More prosaically, it can be seen simply in the life of a modern person who has successfully “grown up” (with the “Quest” signified by perhaps going to college, getting married, or committing to a career) and who is now beginning to tend the needs of the up-and-coming generation.

If the Hero Arc was about reconciling the potential for Power with the goodness of Love, the Queen Arc then is about recognizing that leadership requires not just Love but also the ability to create Order. As such, the Queen’s archetypal antagonists can be seen to be represented by the twofold threat of Invaders from beyond her happy home and the Empty Throne that fails to protect her and her family. Together, these two antagonistic forces are what catalyze the need for her next transformative arc. There is a dearth of leadership in the Kingdom, and she is being called to fulfill it.

The Queen’s Antagonists: Practical and Thematic

Once again, we can see in these dualistic archetypal antagonists the two faces of a story’s conflict: outer and inner, plot and theme. One represents the main thrust of the external conflict—whatever or whoever is framing the larger conflict and therefore the need for the Queen’s ultimate plot goal of protecting or furthering those who depend upon her. The other antagonistic force represents more specifically the protagonist’s inner drama—the inner obstacles that are both driving and blocking her ability to become the person she needs to be in order to triumph in the external conflict.

Usually in a Queen Arc, the Invader represents the outer antagonist and the Empty Throne represents the inner antagonist. However, as with all of these symbolic antagonists, it is possible to achieve many flexible dynamics. For example, if the Empty Throne is truly empty, it may be an antagonistic force represented almost entirely by the Queen’s own insecurities or inner resistance to sitting upon that throne. But if the throne is empty symbolically, in the sense that the current leadership is corrupt, then she may face a Tyrant character (perhaps in a Contagonist role) who must be defeated before she can truly save the Kingdom from the Invaders.

Invader as Archetypal Antagonist

The Queen Arc is just one step up from the very dualistic mindset of the Hero Arc—in which the Hero faced the “evil other” of the animalistic Dragon. The Queen’s primary external antagonist is also still fundamentally viewed as “other,” although this time the antagonist is at least humanized. Because the Queen’s purview of life is still comparatively small (i.e., the Kingdom), she starts out still operating from a very “us vs. them” mindset. Her heart belongs to her people and only her people.

And so when a threat arrives from “outside” the Kingdom, it is accepted as a danger to all she holds dear. Probably this antagonistic force of Invader is also operating from this same “us vs. them” mindset, although more aggressively than defensively.

As such, there is certainly room within the Queen Arc to explore broadening mindsets. The Queen may end her story by subduing the Invaders, but she may also come to terms with them, inviting them into the protection of her Kingdom (now that she has transitioned into a fully realized Ruler) as equals rather than conquests. Regardless, part of the Queen’s transformation is that of mentally moving into a larger setting. She begins her story feeling safe within the walls of the Kingdom and ends by looking beyond the walls to the larger realm to which she is now accountable and responsible.

The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003), New Line Cinema; It’s a Wonderful Life (1947), Liberty Films; A League of Their Own (1992), Columbia Pictures; Elizabeth (1998), PolyGram Filmed Entertainment; The Incredibles (2004), Walt Disney Pictures; Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (2007), Warner Bros.

What is most foundational to the Invader as an archetypal antagonist is that it begins the story by presenting a real threat to the “home life” the Queen has built and which she holds so dear. She probably has no real desire to become a Ruler (or, if she does, she struggles with its ambitious shadow aspects). But the Invader catalyzes the necessity of her growth. If she wishes to protect what she has built, she must expand her capabilities.

Empty Throne as Archetypal Antagonist

If the throne were not empty, there would be no need for the Queen to undergo her arc. She begins the story not as the King but as the Queen. It’s not her job to defend the Kingdom from Invaders. But when she faithfully looks to the existing leadership paradigm to do just that, she discovers the throne is empty.

This may not be an instantaneous discovery. Gradually, it will become clear to both the Queen and her children that nobody is helming the ship. Or if someone is steering, he is doing either a wretchedly incompetent or a criminally corrupt job of it.

The Invader represents the catalyst that prompts the Queen’s journey, but it is the Empty Throne that demands she complete it. However happy she may (or may not) be to act as the Ruler’s lieutenant, there is in fact no true Ruler for her to support. If she’s going to achieve her plot goal and defend the needs of her family, she will have to rise to the task herself.

The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003), New Line Cinema; It’s a Wonderful Life (1947), Liberty Films; Gladiator (2000), DreamWorks; Elizabeth (1998), PolyGram Filmed Entertainment; A League of Their Own (1992), Columbia Pictures; Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (2007), Warner Bros.

Often, the Empty Throne will be represented by a Tyrant character who must be overthrown in order to protect the Kingdom from the larger threat of the Invader. Although the Tyrant may indeed damage the Kingdom in his own right, he is not initially so great a threat that he immediately prompts the Queen to confront him. He is perhaps more a petty tyrant than a violent one (in the latter case he could likely be considered an Invader in his own right). Most importantly, the Tyrant proves himself the obstacle standing between the Queen and the defeat of the Invaders.

It’s also important to note that the Empty Throne need not always be representative of an evil force—of negligence or corruption. Because the Queen Arc marks a healthy and necessary progression in life, there is implicit within the arc the understanding that the throne must be cyclically vacated. Indeed, as we’ve explored previously, the King Arc is that of willingly stepping down from power for the good of all.

The Queen may be preceded by a good King, one who has faithfully sacrificed his leadership to protect his Kingdom. Indeed, he may do so in congruence with the Queen’s own arc. If in this case, the Empty Throne will be a naturally arising challenge for the Queen to grow into. But even in this scenario, the Empty Throne remains representative of an antagonistic force because it signifies the Queen’s inner resistance to fully accepting this throne. When offered the crown, she may, like Prince Henry in Ever After, declare, “I don’t want it!”

Ever After (1998), 20th Century Fox.

Or she may be wary of her own tyrannical proclivities should she be given so much power over other people’s lives—such as with Aragorn in the film versions of  The Lord of the Rings, who feared his lineage’s weakness for the Ring’s dark power.

The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003), New Line Cinema.

How the Invader and the Empty Throne Operate in the Conflict and the Climactic Moment

The Invader will usually be the primary actor in the external conflict (even if it is just a framing conflict). The bulk of a story’s scenes may be about the dynamic between the Queen and the Empty Throne, but the central thrust of the plot is toward and in response to the Invader. The “invasion” may be featured in many different guises, everything from the slow advance of a literal enemy force to the encroaching deadline for a neighborhood’s destruction to a high school presidential campaign against a brazen newcomer. Whatever the case, this is the primary obstacle the Queen is focused on, in ways large and small, on every page of the story.

The Empty Throne, meanwhile, may be one of many obstacles she faces on her route to fending off the Invader, but it is the main obstacle. As such, it may well take up many of the book’s scenes as the Queen grapples with either overthrowing a Tyrant and/or claiming her own true leadership capacity in order to do what is necessary to defend the Kingdom.

The Invader will likely be the primary antagonist defeated in the Climactic Moment. Even if the Queen has yet to officially take the throne upon defeating the Invaders, her defeat of the Empty Throne will not be the Climactic Moment. The only exception is if the Tyrant and the Invader are represented by the same character or force, in which case she will, of course, defeat both archetypes simultaneously.

Although the classic symbolism of this story indicates the Queen will repel the Invader by force and literally take the throne, becoming an uncontested leader, the actual stories need not be so simplistic. It may be that instead of subjugating the Invaders, she reconciles with them, either inviting them under her protection as subjects of her realm or respecting them as a sovereign nation in their own right. It may also be that she does not take someone else’s physical throne, but simply learns to inhabit the Empty Throne in her own heart, embodying true sovereignty without necessarily ruling over a specific Kingdom or people (family, business, etc.).

In whatever way the archetypal antagonists of Invader and Empty Throne manifest in your Queen-Arc story, what is most important is that they represent the catalytic necessity for the Queen’s own growth into a true “servant-leader.”

Stay Tuned: Next week, we will explore the archetypal antagonists of the King Arc: Cataclysm and Rebels.

Related Posts:

Wordplayers, tell me your opinions! Can you think of any more examples of the Invader and the Empty Throne in Queen-Arc stories? Tell me in the comments!

Go on the journey with your characters! Check out the Archetypal Character Guided Meditations.

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About K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland

K.M. Weiland is the award-winning and internationally-published author of the acclaimed writing guides Outlining Your Novel, Structuring Your Novel, and Creating Character Arcs. A native of western Nebraska, she writes historical and fantasy novels and mentors authors on her award-winning website Helping Writers Become Authors.


  1. I just realized that `The Gammadge Cup’ is a Queen arc. When invaders threaten the village, the biggest threat Muggles faces is the complacency of the town leaders. She spends the first half of the book trying to keep anyone from making too many waves while she investigates the threat, and the second half of the book giving up on the idea that she can keep everyone happy, and becoming a leader among the people who know the threat is coming and have left the town in order to stop it.

  2. I wasn’t immediately swept up by the idea of all these arcs and how they represent a life cycle, but you are slowly winning me over. More and more it’s making sense. BTW, with this post I immediately thought of the beginning the Star Trek: Voyager when Janeway must win over the rebels and incorporate them in with the regular Star Fleet crew. Anyway, fun read!

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      It’s just one of many possible ways to view archetypes, so take the meat and spit out the bones I say. 😀

  3. To continue the Mahabharata theme from previous comments, the most obvious example of a queen is Kunti, who is literally a queen, and who must also, after the death (caused by a curse) of her husband Pandu and her co-wife Madri, must take responsibility for raising her sons & Madri’s sons. The Empty Throne is of course her husband King Pandu (who was ineffective even while alive, and death made him even more ineffective). As far as Invaders relative to Kunti… well, there’s a lot of them when you think about it, but by far the most interesting is her firstborn son Karna, the one she abandoned because he was born before her marriage to Pandu. Karna wants to kills Kunti’s favorite son, Arjuna (who is also his half-brother). Karna fits the idea that the Invader is not clear-cut evil but has human qualities, and also he is an external manifestation of Kunti’s internal struggle to accept all of her responsibilities (in this case, her responsibilities as a parent).

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Mmm. The “abandoned child” versus the “chosen child” adds a lot of nuance to this exploration of the Queen Arc. Thanks for sharing, as always!

  4. Grace Dvorachek says

    This was very thought-provoking as I consider my own antagonist. But I do have a question: If my MC is a Queen Arc, but the antagonist is neither an Empty Throne nor an Invader… does that mean my antagonist is incorrect? It seems like his character is really working with the story and bringing about the right change within the MC. His was probably the easiest character to pin down. But since he’s not the right antagonist for my MC’s specific archetype, does that mean I should change his character?

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Short answer is “no.” Potentially, your story is not following any of the life arcs, which is not necessarily a problem. It’s also a possibility that the “essence” of the thematic antagonists are there, but just in more abstract ways. The antagonist you’ve described sounds like a positive Impact Character or Mentor.

      However, it’s also definitely possible that the stronger archetypal narrative might be found in tweaking the character’s relationship to the antagonistic force. You just have to feel into what you’re doing and whether you feel it’s working.

      • Grace Dvorachek says

        So basically my antagonist is the MC’s Lie Mentor. He loves the MC like he was his own son. But he takes the Lie “too” far (even for the MC), and that’s where he crosses the line with the MC—even though the entire reason the antagonist does “bad” things is for the MC. The struggle with the MC is that, as he learns the Truth, he must also come to grips with the realization that the antagonist is wrong.

        Thank you for your insight! I’m breathing a little sigh of relief now—I was envisioning having to rewrite the entire character (which would basically change the whole plot, too).

        • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

          Sorry, I misunderstood. I thought you meant your antagonist was mentoring the protagonist in the Truth. In this case, it may be that your antagonist *is* representing the Empty Throne, in that his adherence to the Lie represents a corruption that the protagonist needs to co-opt.

  5. I think the second Shrek movie displays the Queen arc. Having beaten the enemy outside the kingdom, Shrek is now faced with Fiona’s father who is a weak king. Prince charming and his mother represent an external threat that must be overcome.

  6. Fantastic as always!

    In my story the MC is trying to get her husband & his brother to reconcile. At first, I thought it was a flat character arc, but after your amazing series I’m beginning to think of it as a Queen arc.

    Could the brother-in-law be the invader ( he arrives unannounced into town) & the parents-in-law the empty throne? The father (the king) has encouraged sibling rivalry by favouring one son & the mother (the queen) has upheld the status quo by not intervening. The wife ( on her parent archetype) tries to right the wrong & bring both brothers together.

    Would that be a queen archetype?

    Thanks for this insightful series 🙂

  7. Another great post! I’m reminded of Leigh Bardugo’s King of Scars duology, which literally contains a Queen, an empty throne, invaders, etc. Your post makes it clearer why I like that story and others so much!

  8. Question: can two people be arcing together? I have a story where I know that one character is going through the queen arc, and I was wondering where that left her husband. Since they work together most of the time and are in roughly the same stage of life, would it be possible for them to be arcing side by side? Like both dealing with the invader/empty throne as a team, and consequently both “ruling” together? Or does one have to “take point”? Would it make more sense for them to be in different arcs or one in the advanced flat arc?

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Definitely. It’s possible to have characters undergoing the same life transformation at the same time, or fulfilling different archetypes altogether.

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