I want to know what the plot device is called where the stumbling protagonist has a brush encounter with the antagonist who lets them free, so that they lead them to the "motherland" / "headquarters".

The best example I can think of is.

Happy Feet - Where Mumble goes on a wacky adventure looking for who is stealing all their fish, starts dancing, starts trending on tiktok, gets sent back with a tracker and the elders shout at him "YOU LED THEM HERE??!!"

I'm looking for the literary device used here / story device / military tactic (employed by the antagonist usually) / spy tactic etc.

  • 1
    I'd call this a trope rather than a literary/story device – and it may well have some sort of name as a military tactic but that will probably be unrelated to its name as a trope in stories.
    – dbmag9
    Commented Oct 18, 2022 at 18:46
  • 19
    Just a side note re “Happy Feet - Where Mumble […] starts trending on tiktok” — Happy Feet was released 2006, TikTok in 2018 (and its predecessor Douyin in 2016). I don’t remember exactly how Mumble’s zoo dancing went viral, but it can’t have been on Tiktok! Commented Oct 18, 2022 at 19:03
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    There seems to be assumptions here that 1) All plot tropes have names and 2) Knowing that name is somehow useful (over and above fundamentally understanding the trope itself), no matter how few other people know it by that name. I'm not sure I agree with either 1 or 2.
    – T.E.D.
    Commented Oct 19, 2022 at 17:56
  • 1
    @T.E.D. On the other hand, if you are in a context where you want to make reference to this trope (say, a comparative essay about Happy Feet and A New Hope), it's useful to have a name (a) for researching other instances/discussions (b) so that you can at least consider using it yourself.
    – dbmag9
    Commented Oct 20, 2022 at 22:34
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    @dbmag9 - It could be. But if you can't throw down the name without sending people running for Google to figure out what it means, its not particularly helpful.
    – T.E.D.
    Commented Oct 21, 2022 at 14:37

3 Answers 3


TV Tropes calls it a Trick-and-Follow Ploy

Princess Leia: They let us go. It was the only reason for the ease of our escape.
Han Solo: Easy? You call that easy?
Princess Leia: They're tracking us.
— Star Wars: Episode IV — A New Hope

Suppose you want to find out where someone or something is located, and you know who has this information, but he or she (or it could be a group of people) is unwilling to share it. How do you get this information?

No, not torture. Nor any mind-reading technology (or magic) either. You manipulate said person or people into going there, and then secretly track and/or follow them there.

  • 20
    Always worth noting that most of the names on TV Tropes are just made up for the website, so the OP shouldn't assume they will be understood without explanation.
    – dbmag9
    Commented Oct 18, 2022 at 18:47
  • 7
    Agreed, but most of them don't have any other name.
    – Pete
    Commented Oct 19, 2022 at 3:49
  • 1
    Well, we try, but a better name might be "Trick To Follow Ploy", or maybe even "Release To Follow Back", or something. More for the English SE, however, to figure out Clarity in the fewest amount of words. Go ahead and add those names if you want, Pete.
    – Malady
    Commented Oct 19, 2022 at 12:36

I don't think there is a "real" name for that, except the one mentioned by another answer, which is that web site's name for it. While that's ok, and a great example, I wouldn't have recognized that name as meaning this situation. I did, however, know what you meant by "you led them to us??!!"

I think of this more as a case of the extremely common situation which very often includes the expression "were you followed?" - this would be the "oops, yes I was" version of that.

  • 2
    Upvoting this. Sure "TVTropes" might have invented a name for this particular trope, but so what? Nobody but TVTropes readers use it, so OP could easily have invented an equally-valid name for it themselves.
    – T.E.D.
    Commented Oct 19, 2022 at 17:53

Abstracting this from the spatial aspect of bringing home the enemy:

Something good happens to the protagonist (the princess escapes, the hacker discovers the list of covert employees, the spy steals the secret machine), but it's just a covert device of the antagonist party to bring home harm into the protected realm of the protagonist (the evil king follows her, the hacked machine was a honeypot and the hacker outed himself, the box it came in has an EMP bomb).

I'd call that pulling the wooden horse into the city; I just made that up, but the story of Odysseus inventing the Trojan horse to breach the city walls of Troy is universal enough in western literature that people will probably understand it.

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