Did Thanos Try to Save the Galaxy from Galactus?

Something has been itching at me for a while, something that hasn’t sat well with me since 2018’s Avengers: Infinity War. It lingered in the back of my mind for a while, then lay dormant in the wake of 2019’s sequel, End Game, which brought an incredible, satisfactory conclusion to over ten years of Marvel movies. Now I’ve had all of 2020 to allow this nagging thought to creep to the forefront of my thoughts: why was Thanos so convinced that erasing half of all living creatures from the universe would somehow save everyone?

It was evident he saw himself as the hero of his own story, as all good villains do, but his reasoning on-screen just feels too weak on its own. Well, after a lot of thought, I think I have an idea s to his motivations – an idea that may or may not come to pass, but if it does would not only usher in a terribly exciting new era of the MCU but also retroactively paint the Mad Titan as a more sympathetic character. There’s a lot to unpack here, but we’ll start by looking at Thanos as a character himself, what the movies tell us about his motivations, then finish with a look at what could be in store for us in a later phase of the MCU.

First, let’s talk about who Thanos is in the MCU: he is NOT the same Thanos as in the comics. Comic book Thanos is undoubtedly evil, full of malice and haunted by Death (literally – death first appears to him as a child in the form of a girl and he goes on to have a rather bizarre romantic fixation with her). The 2013 limited series “Thanos Rising” told the story of how Thanos was born and immediately drove his mother insane, then later killed her, and finally destroyed his entire planet in a nuclear bombardment out of spite. He is constantly associated to death, murder, destruction, and mayhem. He’s a bad dude.

MCU Thanos, however, isn’t portrayed in the same light. From the start, he’s shown as a character of greater depth; not meant as mere foil to the heroes of the story, he seems genuinely regretful at times of the actions he’s taking, as if they are a necessary means to an end that is completely justified. I mean look at this guy – the visual comparisons alone are stark (har!) –

In the MCU, Thanos’s back story is a bit more altruistic. Instead of destroying his planet in retribution, his planet was destroyed by its own failings despite his rather genocidal solution of killing off a large chunk of the population. A scene in Infinity War describes this best, while he is showing what became of his home planet to Doctor Strange:

Thanos: It was beautiful. Titan was like most planets: too many mouths, not enough to go around. And when we faced extinction, I offered a solution.

Strange: Genocide.

Thanos: At Random. Dispassionate, fair. Rich and poor alike. They called me a madman. And what I predicted came to pass.

-Avengers: Infinity War (2018)

Despite this harsh approach, his intention is the salvation of his planet, not the destruction of it. This a huge difference, and one that carries throughout his time in the MCU so far as we’ve seen. Things change a bit in Endgame – but only after the Avengers meddle with time and show to what lengths they will go to in order to thwart Thanos’s plan. At that point, he changes his goal to destroy all life and let everything start over again. He maintains that this goal is not for the sake of death, as would be for his comic book counterpart, but instead in an effort to create a “grateful universe”.

Here he also says that he hoped by ending half of all life, the other half would thrive. Coupled with his exchange (above) with Doctor Strange, it is clear that his overall concern is overpopulation. The most obvious reason for overpopulation being a concern is resource scarcity – which is hinted at when Thanos mentions “too many mouths, not enough to go around.” If this was solely the problem, there are glaring issues with Thanos’s plan.

The first is something that is almost a plot whole. If Thanos is being as altruistic as he seems, why not just use the infinity stones to increase the available resources in the universe? This would have required nobody being snapped out of existence and would have had the same end result: extending the amount of time until all living creatures in the universe burn through the resources available to them. I mean, Thanos could have just created whole planets throughout the universe in opposite orbit of each other, copies of one another, and transferred half of the population to the new planet, right? There are tons of options available here that wouldn’t have required mass genocide, if we conclude that the issue is the ratio of living creatures to available resources.

The other issue is the timing. Overpopulation is something that even we humans are aware of as an eventual concern, but it won’t turn to globally catastrophic levels for many, many years. It should be assumed that we, as a species, would be able take some action ourselves, without outside interference, to keep on keepin’ on. Why, then, was Thanos’s people not able to do that? How did it seemingly reach a point where the only solution was immediate, mass, global murder? This seems to indicate a sense of urgency that doesn’t fit with simple overpopulation.

Something seems to be affecting this clock outside of simple overpopulation compared to natural resource scarcity. What would require immediate, drastic action, dictating that the best solution of all possible options was to remove half of all living creatures from the universe?

My theory – this is a misdirection. Thanos’s motivations are not borne of a disparity between life and resources. The threat to the galaxy was not solvable by increasing available resources, but only by removing life. In fact, if what I propose is true, then creating more resources would make things worse.

Because Galactus.

If Thanos is bad news, this guy is a death in the family. Galactus is a literal world devourer. His origins predate the big bang, from which he is the only survivor from a prior universe. He wields the Power Cosmic. He’s essentially immortal and able to do anything. He might not be as powerful as the combined infinity gems, but he’s close, and we can wield that power indefinitely without causing himself harm.

See, the thing with Galactus is he gets really hungry. He’s almost presented as a force of nature – when he gets hungry, and picks a planet to eat, there’s not really much anyone can do to stop it from happening. He invests a small fraction of the Power Cosmic into a herald, an entity that then serves him by traveling the universe looking for planets ripe with life. The more life, the more nourishing the meal. His most famous herald, The Silver Surfer, eventually grows a conscience and actively seeks out planets that do not have sentient life, if he can help it.

See where I’m going with this? If Thanos had increased the amount of natural resources in the universe, it would have only served to draw Galactus to those planets that have an overabundance of life. By instead removing half of all life (living creatures – not plant life – as indicated in the movies) the hope may be that planets with sentient life might seem less attractive to the World Eater. Since this wouldn’t affect plant life, there would still be plenty of lush planets out there with vegetation, insects, and other lower forms of life that would make a great meal for him.

The upcoming Eternals movie looks like it could be a good place for Marvel to start seeding this villain into the MCU. Not only has it been confirmed that Thanos will make an appearance (likely as a dashing, young version of himself), but there is the question of what kind of threat could possibly be levied against them?

For those that don’t know, Eternals are nearly godlike super-beings. Thanos himself is an eternal – imagine Thanos, without the glove, fighting against the combined strength of Thor, Captain America, and Iron Man in the final segment of Avengers Endgame – THAT is an Eternal. Now combine that knowledge with the fact that the Eternals movie stars a cast of heroes each with powers that could rival Thanos. Oh, and those powers? New descriptions leaked not long ago that describes them – of the ten main characters, six of their powers are described specifically as ‘cosmic’ powers. The MCU could be repurposing the term, but in the comics, the Power Cosmic is a very specific thing intimately tied to Galactus.

It is also worth noting that the creators of the Eternals, a race known as Celestials (beings even more godlike and powerful than the Eternals), have already been introduced in the MCU, principally through the Guardians of the Galaxy movies. You might remember the dead celestial that Benicio del Toro’s character, The Collector, resides in?

Or how about the flashback of this Celestial in Guardians Vol. 1?

Wait – what is that staff he’s holding – why does that look familiar?

Just saying, there are a lot of connections to be made here. I don’t even think Galactus himself will make an appearance in Eternals – but I’m betting we’ll see one of his heralds. You know, one of those guys that scopes out worlds for their master like some sort of galactic concierge service? The best known of his heralds was this guy:

Now, I don’t think we’ll see the Silver Surfer yet either, but Galactus had several heralds before him. I hope we see one of them – as even divested with only a fraction of the Power Cosmic, given to them by Galactus, a herald would be a formidable foe against a group of Eternals.

When that looming, existential dread hangs over the entirety of Phase 5 and our heroes discover that the exponentially-more-powerful boss of the baddie that wiped the floor with a group of supermen is coming to Earth – will the Avengers wish they had a few more decades to prepare a way to fight back? Thanos’s plans might have given them that time, but they won’t have that luxury, because Galactus is coming – and he is hungry.

So what do you think? Comment below to let me know what your predictions for Phase 4 and beyond will be. Will we see Galactus in the MCU? How do you think they will integrate him into the films? Regardless of how it plays out, I’m so excited to see what the folks at Marvel have in store for us. With 2020 behind us, 2021 and beyond looks awfully sweet. Thanks for reading!

Theory: What the White Walkers Really Want

Okay, Game of Thrones Season 8 is upon us, and as our lovable heroes face the Night King a burning question remains: what does this enemy want? The internet is filled with terrible theories, but I say there’s always room for more! To be fair, I won’t assume this theory is new by any means, but I like it well enough to share – who knows, maybe some shred of it might end up being true, though it’s about as likely as Daario = Benjen.

The White Walkers are a mysterious foe. Thought they first popped up at the beginning of the very first episode (and thus predated all other characters still on screen), we really know very little about them or their motivations.

“But, Mat,” you may ask, “aren’t they just evil ice demons that want to kill people and stuff?” Well, no, not likely. George R.R. Martin has gone on record multiple times regarding his thoughts on the morality of his characters, stating he loves ‘gray’ characters. Check out this quote from an interview he did with Assignment X in 2011:

“Much as I admire Tolkien, and I do admire Tolkien – he’s been a huge influence on me and his LORD OF THE RINGS is the mountain that leans over every other fantasy written since and shaped all of modern fantasy – there are things about it, the whole concept of the Dark Lord, and good guys battling bad guys, good versus evil, while brilliantly handled in Tolkien, in the hands of many Tolkien successors, it has become kind of a cartoon. We don’t need any more Dark Lords, we don’t need any more, ‘Here are the good guys, they’re in white, there are the bad guys, they’re in black. And also, they’re really ugly, the bad guys.”

– George R.R. Martin, AssignmentX.com, 2011

It’s pretty clear that Martin isn’t intending to present the White Walkers to us as evil incarnate bad guys, and we can infer that they instead of real motivations for doing what they are doing. So knowing the very little we do about them, but assuming they have something that resembles human emotion and drive, what could they want?

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is a quick and dirty way to figure this out – looking at the base of the pyramid are physiological needs, those things that are of the utmost importance to our survival on this cruel mistress of a planet: homeostasis, food, water, sleep, shelter, and sex. I believe strongly that its one of these items that are causing the White Walkers to push south and risk war and death to their kind should they fail. There must be something at a fundamentally basic level that would drive them to do this.

If I had to put money on it, I’d say it’s sex.

Or, rather, reproduction. One of the cornerstone drives of human physiology is to further our species and produce children. If we did not do this, humans would die out as a species and disappear from the planet. One of the few known factors about the white walkers is that they take children. That we know of, Craster offered up at least several baby boys to the walkers. But why?

We see clearly in the show that the Night King takes one of Craster’s babies and turns it into a white walker through some strange magic. There is no reason to believe this differs in the books, as they provide even more evidence of this baby-absconding behavior. Stories are mentioned of the Night’s King, a historical member of the night’s watch (more on him later) who was stricken from the history books specifically because it was found he was sacrificing children to the white walkers. The book, therefore, lends itself even more to the idea that White Walkers, at least to some extent, require human babies in order to reproduce.

This brings me to my next thought. We know that the White Walkers only take Craster’s boys, not the girls. The story of the Night’s King doesn’t specify anything regarding the genders of the sacrificed children, so we are limited to Craster’s interactions with the Walkers in this regard. So, why only the boys?

One possibility is that the Walkers were using Craster’s setup as a breeding colony – if they let Craster keep the women, Craster can make more children, meaning more boys for the Night King’s army, but wouldn’t this whole ‘relying on humans for the procreation of our species’ thing kinda suck?

This speaks to a bigger point: why are there no female White Walkers?
In the show, we’ve only seen male White Walkers. Its possible that they’re in the background somewhere, deep in the frozen north. But if there were female White Walkers would they be able to procreate more traditionally, without relying on humans like Craster?

The answer might be no, but for this theory I want to lay the following on the table: What if female white walkers are possible, and with one they could procreate on their own – then what if the female White Walkers have all died out, the male White Walkers are now in a position to rely on taking sacrifices from the Wildlings, but cannot turn girls into one of their species in the same way they change baby boys. As they attempt to survive by taking a smattering of sacrifices, all the wildlings are banding together and plotting to flee the north completely, removing the White Walkers’ ability to procreate completely, except Craster. Then the Night’s Watch deserters kill Craster and ruin that too. What would the White Walkers, put in that situation, do next? Maybe they would march on the wall in full strength in order to seek what they truly need: a Night Queen, a female that can help them sustain their population.

This isn’t unprecedented, as that story of the Night’s King that appears in the books (the old musty Night’s Watch guy) relates that the Lord Commander at the time fell in love with a woman “with skin as white as the moon and eyes like blue stars” and that “her skin was cold as ice”. If this doesn’t scream lady White Walker, I don’t know what does. If we can accept this as fact, then we have evidence that there was, at least once, a female white walker.

Fast forward to present time in A Song of Ice and Fire and we have seen a minimal amount of detail regarding the White Walkers as a society and culture. While the show may deviate from the books in this regard, it is clear so far that no female White Walkers are present. If there are none now, but we know there has been at least one in the past, then wouldn’t it stand to reason that the White Walkers might seek to find a new queen? Wouldn’t this motivation be made even stronger if a female White Walker is the missing key to self control over their reproduction and the survival of their species? And wouldn’t this motivation be enough to drive them south, end centuries of peace, and fight against mankind?

There’s a lot of speculation that the original Long Night was ended through some sort of agreement struck between the White Walkers, humans, and the children of the forest. If that’s the case, and the above theory is true, I believe that the deal was a human woman offering herself to willingly become a White Walker, and perhaps some agreement to offer children to the walkers as well. Over the course of centuries, humans forgot about this deal and the old traditions were lost. What we’re seeing in this series may just be the culmination of hundreds of years worth of humans shitting on the oaths they made and it’s now time for the white walkers to remind the Seven Kingdoms of those oaths.

So in summary, the theory so far is as follows: the White Walkers are on the verge of extinction. Their ability to procreate has been reduced to the point where they must rely on infrequent sacrifices from wildlings like Craster. Now, after centuries of slow decline and the wintry winds at their backs, they march to war in search of a new queen and a hope for their peoples’ survival by pushing men into submission and either brokering a sweet, new deal or destroy mankind if they refuse.

If this theory ends up holding any water, I think it likely that Dany herself would offer herself to the Night King and become a female white walker. With her sacrifice, she would save the Seven Kingdoms from destruction but be forced exile herself and give up the one thing she’s fought so hard to achieve: the iron throne. It could be that by making this choice, Dany herself becomes the song of ice and fire as her Targaryan blood merges with the ice magic of the white walkers.

One way or another I do believe Dany is headed down a path that will see her without her dragons and without her throne; I cannot imagine the world after A Song of Ice and Fire (a series written by a longtime pacifist and Vietnam War conscientious objector) being under the sway of a warlord holding her finger over a button of mass destruction. For those reasons, her story arc has to end with her realizing the Kingdoms are better without her and giving up her claim to the iron throne. She has to have an ending that takes her out of the equation and the above theory does just that. This sacrifice in and of itself will at once prove her capacity to be a good queen, while also removing her ability to be that queen in the way she wanted. It provides the bittersweet ending that George R.R. Martin has promised us by allowing Dany to be a hero while sacrificing everything for the sake of her people and saving another people from extinction.

Why it’s time to be excited about Amazon’s Tolkien show

Amazon’s Lord of the Rings prequel show is shaping into something special. With the latest reveal, most of my fears have gone out the window and I want to share with you why. Keep reading and find out why you should be pumped for what Amazon has in store for us.

If you’re anything like me, then your reaction to the late-2017 announcement that Amazon had won a bid for a Lord of the Rings-related show was mixed at best.

Now, I’m a huge Lord of the Rings / Tolkien fan, so any announcement of this nature is bound to get me excited, no details necessary. For the most part, I was, but I was also quite skeptical. After all, it was only a few short years ago that Hollywood gave us the shit spectacle that was The Battle of the Five Armies.

So on a surface level, I had worries that we would get another unfortunate disaster that would do more harm than good to Tolkien’s legacy. However, embedded in Amazon’s original press release (found here), there was a very tantalizing nugget of information: “The upcoming Amazon Prime Original will be produced by Amazon Studios in cooperation with the Tolkien Estate and Trust…” I struggled over those words when I first read them, finding them difficult to believe, but when my eyes glazed over the ink for the hundredth time and convinced me I wasn’t imagining things, I about lost my shit. In order to understand the magnitude of this particular detail, its worth a brief history lesson.

In 1969, Tolkien sold the rights to The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit to United Artists (UA). Those rights have undergone a whole lot of Hollywood nonsense and changed hands over the years, to the point now where it seems to be a minefield for anyone trying to produce Tolkien-related material without stepping out of bounds. By the time of his death, J.R.R. Tolkien had certainly left his mark on the world. After all, everything we have gotten to experience over the last fifty years about Middle-earth has been adapted from those two pieces of fiction. Except for books.

You see, Tolkien was a much more prolific writer than he was an author. He wrote an incredible amount of material that went unpublished until after his death. His son, Christopher, collected, edited, and released many wonderful pieces of writing that his father left behind, including his Magnum Opus, The Silmarillion.


Unlike his father, Christopher Tolkien held all of these posthumous works close to his chest and absolutely refused to sell the rights for any amount of money. It is quite clear that Christopher treasured his father’s work and thought that any material representation outside of print would degrade his father’s legacy. In a 2012 interview with Le Monde, Christopher went on record regarding his thoughts about Peter Jackson’s beloved and critically acclaimed trilogy, saying:

“They eviscerated the book, making it an action movie for 15-25 year olds…
and it seems The Hobbit will be the same …Tolkien has become a monster, devoured by his popularity and absorbed in the absurdity of the time,” Christopher Tolkien observes sadly, “the gap between the beauty, the seriousness of the work, and what it is. has become, all this is beyond me. This degree of commercialization reduces to nothing the aesthetic and philosophical scope of this creation. I have only one solution left: turn my head.”

It is no understatement that so long as Christopher Tolkien was in control of the Tolkien Estate and Trust, there would be no chance of seeing any of this posthumous work adapted to the screen. So how, then, does Amazon get to make their upcoming series “…in cooperation with the Tolkien Estate and Trust?” The answer boils down to two things:

  1. Christopher Tolkien stepped down as director of the Tolkien Estate and Trust on August 31, 2017. This wasn’t public knowledge until the announcement was made on November 15, 2017, two days after Amazon’s show announcement.
  2. Dump trucks worth of money. About $250 million, actually.

It appears that once Christopher was no longer in charge, the new body of leadership for the Tolkien Estate and Trust gave in the overwhelming weight of wealth being offered, and now here we are. I always respected Christopher’s protectiveness of his father’s legacy so part of me mourns for this turn of events. The other part of me is excited for what this means – the greater extent of Tolkien’s legendarium is now accessible, for better or for worse, and Amazon will be the first to deliver this new source material to a wider audience than ever before.

Now the main question that lingers on my mind is: will it be any good? Early rumors that the show would be “The Young Adventures of Aragorn” bothered me, but they turned out to be false. Very recently Amazon made a new announcement:

This is the news that carried my fears away and why we should all be very excited for what Amazon is putting together for us. The roughly 3400-year period of time that makes up the 2nd Age of Middle-earth has previously been untouched by film or television. It’s a veritable playground for a high quality production team to work in, because while there is an outline of events that take place during that time, the details are largely unwritten.

The 2nd Age, to put it simply, encompasses the first rise and fall of Sauron as the principal threat to Middle-earth. As the 2nd Age starts, Sauron cloaks himself in an entirely beautiful form that alludes nothing to his inherently evil nature. He tricks the elves into making the Rings of Power and enslaves nine leaders of men, turning them into the Nazgul. He then tricks the men of Numenor, leading to their downfall and the destruction of their entire island. The only survivors are Aragorn’s ancestors and those loyal to them. Gondor is founded, as well as the great northern kingdom that mirrored it. Sauron’s power grows and the Battle of the Last Alliance ends the 2nd Age as The One Ring is cut from Sauron’s finger.

There are a ton of wonderful opportunities here. I, for one, would love to see a well-done adaptation that covers the downfall of Numenor. If I could place a bet on it, I think that’s precisely what Amazon will end up doing, unless they choose to show the drama surrounding the creation of the rings.

No matter what material they choose to cover it’s of the utmost importance that its done well and done right. In this regard, I am confident we will get both. I don’t hold this view out of any trust in Amazon or any sense of blind optimism. I hold this view because money talks and Amazon is a stunningly successful business.

I mentioned earlier that Amazon paid $250-million for the rights to this 2nd Age material. That’s an absolute butt-ton of money and only for the RIGHTS – on top of that amount comes all the cost of actually producing the show: advertising, writers, actors, directors, crew, and anything else you can think of. Let’s put this into perspective by laying out some other notable book-to-film rights purchases:

Granted these are movies and Amazon’s Tolkien series will be, well, a series, but it still illustrates the astronomical difference between some of the biggest money-making movies in film history and the amount paid for their adaptation rights. (Note: The Da Vinci Code’s $6-million price tag is the most amount publicly known to have been paid for book-to-movie adaptation rights).

Multiple sources (here , here, and here for example) indicate that it is common practice to pay about 2-4% of a project’s overall budget for the rights. Amazon is throwing this entire concept out the window though, as they expect a budget of about $750-million for a 5-season run and an approximate overall cost of about $1-billion. This is set to make it the most expensive television production in history.

So yeah, we have a project in the works for a first-of-its-kind Tolkien adaptation, the rights for which were purchased by the richest guy in the world, for the most amount ever paid for adaption rights, in order to create the most expensive TV-series ever created. If there’s one thing Amazon is good at, its making money and the only way you can make a profit on something that costs more than anything of its kind that come before it is to make that material better than everything that’s come before it.

I think we’re in for a treat.

The Beautiful Tragedy of Red Dead Redemption

(Note: the first portion of this post will be spoiler-free. If you have not yet completed Red Dead Redemption 2, I suggest you do not read past the clearly marked SPOILER WARNING below.)

Like millions of people, I played Red Dead Redemption after it hit store shelves for PS3 back in 2010. Roaming the vibrant pseudo-Texan backdrop of the decreasingly wild West was an absolute blast. Like all good stories, Red Dead Redemption thoroughly transported me from my real world worries and captured me with its intriguing story and stunning level of detail. Full of activities, exciting locations, and colorful NPC’s, this game wasn’t content with streamlining me through to the end, but instead wanted me distracted and immersed. Plenty of games make stabs at doing this, but RDR upped the ante compared to contemporary games. By the time I was nearing the end of its sprawling, character-driven narrative it was clear Red Dead Redemption would be one of the most compelling games I would ever play.

I was not alone in these sentiments; RDR cleaned house at award shows and shipped astounding numbers of units across the world. When the first hints of a sequel started to spread all eyes fell on Rockstar, and when the first trailer dropped in late 2016 fans already knew they were in for a treat. Everything about Red Dead Redemption 2 that they released over the two years that followed only added to the heap of anticipation. Rockstar promised to take their golden formula and somehow make it even grander and more ambitious than its predecessor.

As the October 2018 release date approached, the hype grew exponentially; fans learned of a new protagonist, Arthur Morgan, and that the game would, in fact, be a prequel. As it turns out, it was with that beautiful maneuver and the immense quality of work that went into RDR2 that brings me to the purpose of this blog entry.

Beecher’s Hope, Red Dead Redemption 2

Good sequels and prequels, whether in film, print, game design, or other mediums, are hard to come by. When we find one, we are lucky if we get a better understanding of the original’s context or learn more about the lives of its characters. But the few truly great sequels enhance the themes and elevate the quality of the original. The sequel/prequel thus works not only as a worthy follow-up, but also as a sort of reflection that shows us a better version of the originating material without actually making any changes to that material in and of itself.

So when 2019’s Red Dead Redemption 2 managed to do exactly that to its own multiple award-winning, 2010 ‘Game of the Year’ predecessor, it truly achieved something great. RDR2 is masterpiece in that regard. Movies like The Dark Knight, or Terminator 2: Judgement Day, are fantastic sequels and better than their own prior installments, but neither of those movies truly impacted the essence and nature of the original in such a way that the original could be considered better on its own.

Perhaps RDR2 finds this success in the underlying nature of being a prequel instead of a sequel, but I struggle to find an example of a prequel that has pulled this off in quite the same way. Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me might come close, but what it added to the show’s first and second (and now third) seasons is more supplemental versus trans-formative in nature. Ridley Scott’s Prometheus and Alien: Covenant tried to do what RDR did, but the floundering and critical reception of those movies only go to prove how difficult a challenge this is. The only thing that I can honestly say has come close to mimicking RDR2’s success as a prequel, in my eyes, is the Star Wars saga movie, Rogue One. The entirety of that movie achieved the equally successful goals of being both entertaining and also of adding weight and bearing to Star Wars: A New Hope, which it did very well despite the latter having been released decades earlier.

Do not read past this point if you have any interest in keeping the events of Red Dead Redemption 2’s ending a mystery.

It was until the end of RDR2 that I realized the stroke of genius painted by one of its overarching themes: the perpetuation and cyclical nature of violence. There are many parts of RDR2 that work well, but it is this theme that melds with the game’s predecessor to create a unifying experience.

Taken in chronological order, RDR2 tells the story of how its protagonist, Arthur Morgan, begins to recognize the crumbling world he’s living in. The latter third of his arc centers on his falling-out with his mentor, Dutch, as he takes a long, hard look at the life he’s led and gradually determines to selflessly do whatever possible to give John Marston a chance at leading a better, honest life with his family. When he is ultimately successful and loses his life, his arc is closed, but his story continues. Through Arthur’s sacrifice and encouragement, the player picks up playing as John Marston. Marston struggles to leave the life of banditry behind him, but with the game’s end we see a version of him that we hope to see. It’s a seemingly semi-sweet ending, with John making honest efforts to let his boy Jack grow up in a civilized world free constant running and fighting his father experienced.

For any of us that played the original Red Dead Redemption, however, this ending for RDR2 is hardly even semi-sweet, but instead is downright tragic. Set several years later, RDR sees John Marston’s past catch up to him as the government threatens to kill his wife, Abigail, and son, Jack, if John doesn’t hunt down what remains of Dutch’s gang. These same federal agents who seek to bring an end to the lawlessness of the wild west themselves turn to ruthless and violent tactics in order to meet their end goals, which has the immediate affect of taking a dangerous bandit-turned-rancher out of retirement. As the player, every murder, theft, con, and dirty deed that John enacts throughout RDR is on the shoulders of federal agents holding his family hostage. When John’s own arc comes to an end and he is then gunned down on his ranch (the very symbol of a hopeful new beginning that John built with his bare hands and with honest money, we now know from RDR2) we could at least grasp why John deserved to die. He was not always a good man; redemption is not guaranteed for anyone, and the wrongs we commit have a price.

But that wasn’t the end of Red Dead Redemption, as it had its own epilogue, this time placing us in the shoes of John’s son, Jack Marston. It’s at this point that the sprawling theme of recurrent violence takes its tragic turn. Throughout RDR2 and the majority of RDR, Arthur Morgan and John Marston seek redemption in the form of giving someone they care about a chance at a better life. Arthur does what he does in the final acts of his story so that John, Abigail, and Jack can be free, and John continues this effort as an extension of Arthur’s will.

This context didn’t exist, however, in 2010. We knew that John Marston had a checkered past, but we didn’t know how much blood and sacrifice went into giving Jack a good life. So when Jack puts on his father’s hat, tracks down the federal agent responsible for his father’s death, and murders him it felt felt good, it felt like justice. And when I, as a player, continued as Jack in the sandbox of the not-so-very wild west, killing and robbing strangers, I couldn’t have possibly known how hard John worked so his son would never lead that life. It’s there, with those memories of playing extended hours in that epilogue, that RDR2 brings me incredible sadness at knowing that for all that Arthur and John did, they couldn’t keep the great wheel of violence from turning and passing the torch to whom surely won’t be its final bearer.

Jack Marston, revenge killer, Red Dead Redemption, 2010

My First Foray into the World of Yakuza


Of all the wonderful books I’ve read over the years, only a handful gave me that feeling. You know the one. It’s the feeling you get when you read that last word on the last page and reluctantly flip the back cover over. You realize in that instant that the time you’ve poured into those wonderful characters, their world, and the motivators that pushed them along the way is now over. You sit there looking at the object in your hands like its a strange and powerful artifact. Something clutches at your heart like the combination of a panic attack, kissing your soul mate, and putting the final touches on your Magnum opus. You’ve accomplished something that’s going to stick with you forever. It’s still there…but in a way its gone. You’ll never get to experience that story in the same way again and you know that. There’s a weight with this, too – a realization that nothing else you do for the rest of that day is going to compare to that moment.

Glee and heartache, despair and longing. Would that I could have more of those moments.

Like I said, I’ve read a lot of really good books, but only a few have left me in a state like this. I can list them here without effort:

  • Tolkien’s The Return of the King
  • Martin’s A Storm of Swords (I read this immediately after the first two, but before feast was published), A Feast for Crows, and A Dance with Dragons
  • Sanderson’s The Way of Kings & Words of Radiance
  • Rothfuss’s The Name of the Wind

Looking at this list, there must some common factors contributing to that feeling. Let’s see – all of these books pulled me into their world and truly transported me to a place that felt real. All of them had characters that felt alive – people that I could become deeply and emotionally invested in. Lastly, they all contained plots that easily obtained my buy-in for the things that were at stake, ending with a sense of finality that took an above-average amount of time to get there.

Those three things – they all struck a special chord in regards to world, characters, and plot.

There is only one other format that has left me with ‘the feeling’: video games. Those, however, have been even fewer and farther between. For all the same reasons as the books above, here are the only games that had this effect on me:

  • Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots
  • Ni No Kuni
  • The Last of Us

And now: Yakuza Zero

I could talk at length about my love for all of the titles above, book and game alike, but here I’m going to gush about my first, and incredibly long overdue, experience with the Yakuza franchise.

Before I get into spoiler territory, check out this E3 trailer from 2016 so you can get a feel for this game:


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