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40K Grimdark Theories: The Emperor Was Malcador’s Puppet

6 Minute Read
Feb 18 2020

Today let’s take a look at another crazy 40K theory, this time about who the true power in the Imperium was.

Of all the characters from early Imperial history, few are more important and mysterious as Malcador the Sigillite. Before the Space Marines and their Primarchs, before the Thunder Warriors and Unification, and even before the Imperium of Man, there was the Emperor and Malcador. Malcador is described as an eternally bent old man, the Merlin to the Emperor’s Arthur. A Perpetual and, according to Leman Russ, the most potent Psyker in the galaxy after the Emperor, he served as the Emperor’s right hand. Such a mysterious figure has engendered many theories and rumors. Today, let’s take a look at a particularly intriguing, and crazy, one: that it was Malcador who was the real Emperor and the being known as the Emperor is simply a puppet. Let us dig in.

The Role Of Malcador

Malcador serves as the Emperor’s right hand and the second in command of the Imperium. While the Emperor was the outward face of the Imperium, Malcador actually seems to deal much more with the day to day business. Often when working towards Unification, or compliance Malcador would arrive first, and the Emperor would only come if Malcador failed in his task, the stick to Malcador’s carrot. Malcador also seems to have been more directly involved with dealing with Imperial politics, such as with the Senatorum Imperialis and the High Lords. Certainly, once the Webway Project was underway, the Emperor left most things to Malcador. 

Of course, Malcador wasn’t merely a diplomat. He filled a considerable number of roles. He was a powerful psyker, second only to the Emperor, and one of the few who knew the truth of the Warp. He was an ageless long-lived perpetual, though unlike most perpetuals who appear in middle age, Malcador always appeared old. He also acted as Imperial spymaster and would found the Grey Knights and Inquisition. To the Primarchs, he was a second father, close with many of them and privy to all their and the Emperor’s secrets. To the Emperor, he was a loyal companion and servant and perhaps His only friend. At least this is the story we have been told. 

The Theory

This theory has gone around in a few forms. Still, at its heart, it espouses the same thing: that the relationship between Malcador and the Emperor is, in fact, the opposite of what we see, that Malcador is the real Master of Mankind and the Emperor we see is a puppet. Overall it’s a pretty simple idea, the Emperor and Malcador often act as a team, and a reversal of their roles aren’t that hard to see. That Malcador, an apparently old man, might create a perfect “Emperor” to act as a figurehead and symbol for his empire isn’t that hard to fathom. While in public people, and enemies would focus on the Emperor, Malcador would be free to go about his real business, whatever that was, in secret.


The theory is fed by a lot of Malcador’s actions. We often see Malcador acting “in the Emperor’s” name when it seems clear they’ve had no communication. During the Heresy with the Emperor supposedly distracted by keeping the Webway Gate closed, Malcador is running the show, and he seems to take a lot of actions without the Emperor’s express knowledge of consent. Some of the Primarchs even comment on Malcador’s taking charge, and at other times note that Malcador often seems to know everything and be playing everyone. He even spies on the Custodian Guard. It’s not a huge leap to think that he was in charge and always in charge and that maybe the Heresy wore down the facade.

Then there is this curious exchange in The Solar War where Malcador and the Emperor meet in the Warp. One old, aged and dressed in black furs, aging, failing, and the other young, vital, clad in shining gold armor. This is the classic vision of Malcador and the Emperor together; however, at the end of their conversation, we get this revelation:

“I cannot see,’ says the Emperor, furs shifting over His aged frame. ‘Not within nor beyond the Edge of Night. The present is darkness and the future, a horizon. There is only the struggle.’

Malcador, young and clad in gold, is still for a moment and then nods once, his face a mask that cannot hide his worry.”

Here is a revelation that fits the theory; the Emperor and Malcador are not what they seem. Of course, the theory ends with Malcador’s death on the throne, and here there are a few versions. Some state Malcador achieved his goal and ascended, others that Malcador did end up sacrificing his life, the noble act of the puppet master. Lastly, some think it was all part of his game, that the perpetual Malcador only seemed to die, later to return and is still ruling from the shadows.

What Is the Emperor



If Malcador is in charge, then it does lead to a few questions about what the Emperor is. One version of the theory states that Emperor isn’t a person at all but rather some sort of creation from the Dark Age of Technology that Malcador controls – The Sigillites, after all, were dedicated to preserving powerful artifacts. In this version, the Emperor is just some sort of robot following his commands. In other versions of the theory, the Emperor is a man, likely a pysker and perpetual who either knowingly or unknowingly is under Malcador’s control and manipulation. This could, of course, explain why the Emperor is far less active after the Horus Heresy, with Malcador’s death. He/it no longer has someone to give it commands.

Thoughts On the Theory

I like the idea of the theory but don’t think it will ever be proven one way or another. This is one of those things that’s much better left hinted at for us to guess at. Nor do I think it should ever be shown to be true, the Emperor is too interesting a character to be written off just a puppet, a Snoke if you will (with Malcador as Palatine, he’s even got the look down). In some ways I guess the theory doesn’t matter, it changes little, only how we view things.

I don’t think that the idea that the Emperor and Malcador were not totally what they seemed is a huge shock to most people. Nor is it always even clear what a puppet master is; was Arthur merely Merlin’s puppet? Is a ruler always the puppet of a wise adviser in some ways? Maybe they were just friends, or maybe everything we’ve ever known about the Master of Mankind was a carefully crafted lie to create a more pleasing ruler for the true master to hind behind, an illusion to make slavery more palatable (now that’s crazy talk), we’ll likely never know.

Let us know what you think of this crazy theory, down in the comments! 

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