Matter Of Perspective: Red Dead Redemption

As per with our Matter of Perspective series, the following article contains spoilers for Red Dead Redemption.

The past is what makes you. Every event, every conversation, every experience has led to you becoming who you are. In fact you could go as far to say that every event in history has led to this point,  me writing this article and you reading it. A small change along that path and this post may never have existed at all.

My point is that if the past has shaped everything, then anything done leads to consequences in the future. This brings us to John Marston, the protagonist of Red Dead Redemption, and a man trying to repent for his past transgressions. He is looking to redeem himself. However, the past leads to consequences.

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“People don’t forget. Nothing gets forgiven.”


John Marston was an outlaw who murdered, robbed, raided, and threatened as well as a whole host of other crimes, while running in a gang. In the game John comes across as a kind and reasonable man, but he is in fact capable of great horrors. The above quote is uttered by John himself because he knows his past actions demand a fitting conclusion.

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Think of the many people John has hurt over the years by being an outlaw. How many families lost fathers, sons, daughters, and even mothers because of his what he has done? It doesn’t matter now that he helps people out later in life, because that is all overshadowed by the pain and suffering he has caused to so many.

John’s actions lead to the authorities getting involved, taking his wife and son in an attempt to get him to bring down his old gang. This may be seen as a very harsh course of action by the authorities, but after everything John has done, it seems fair to cause him anguish like he had done to so many others.

Red Dead Redemption manages to portray the officers as the bad guys incredibly well. After all we see everything from John’s perspective, and he has grown up in a situation where the lawmen were the bad guys. Cross a lawman and a shootout would almost certainly occur when John ran with the gang. He was taught to not trust them, so when viewing the lawmen from his perspective we are treated to that same outlook.

Edgar Ross leads the investigation and is just as ruthless as Marston used to be in the past. Maybe it’s the only way Ross can be, to get Marston to hunt down his old gang members. Too easy and Marston wouldn’t have the incentive to do so. Edgar Ross becomes what Marston was in order to secure a much safer future in the more modern, tamed West.

While Ross is the architect, Marston becomes the tool to wipe away his own kind, and his own era. The days of the Wild West and the midday shootouts in the town streets are being replaced by trains and cars. Ross embraces this future, but Marston resents it because it there is no place in this new world for people like him.

So Marston hunts down his former gang mates, those who had left him to die after a crime gone wrong. It’s a few years after this abandonment that Marston is forced to hunt them, but he doesn’t resist too much. He searches for those men one by one, killing them to close his ties and exact his own revenge. After completing his mission he is reunited with his family, and you think that is it. It’s all over.

Everyone eventually pays for what they have done.”


However, John Marston was still a criminal and that quote above is uttered by Edgar Ross. Though Marston had lost his family temporarily while hunting his former friends he hadn’t paid for what he had done, at least not in the eyes of Edgar Ross.

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Edgar has seen the destruction of a group of wanted criminals and doesn’t want to have one more running around. So Marston is killed in what could be argued as one of the most horrific and over the top ways imaginable.

A line of enforcement led by Edgar Ross form a firing squad as Marston comes out guns blazing. It’s a brutal end, but also a very poetic one in what it represents for the future.

The death of Marston is done in such a fashion to signify the rapid encroachment of the modern world into the once wild West. The rate of change is fast and brutal, wiping away anything that is deemed a relic. Marston’s death was poignant because it showed that his lifestyle was not one that had any place in the new world.  A new era began with his death because his thread was now closed.

The age of the Wild West died with John Marston.

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7 Comments

  1. Excellent piece.

    I’d argue though that it’s pretty crystal clear (at least if you play him the way I did with full honour) that John is a changed man and wants nothing more than to live out the rest of his days honestly building his ranch with his family. Had Ross not decided to send an entire army after John and his family, I have no doubt that the Marstons would have been law-abiding citizens from then on.

    It’s interesting to suggest that Ross perhaps wasn’t as evil he seemed to players through the eyes of John, however what he did (kidnapping John’s family and forcing him to assassinate his old friends) was utterly reprehensible and ultimately inexcusable, not to mention entirely outwith the law. At least in my opinion.

    • Bang on, fella. Nearly dying changed him but the law didn’t see it that way and doesn’t allow for that.

  2. As Duffy Box says above I’m sure John Marston and his family would of lived as law-abiding citizens after all the commotion. However, neither sides are in the right at any point in the game. It was nice to get revenge as John’s son in the end.

  3. Great game too!

  4. if Marston was brought up in an environment where lawlessness is considered the norm, it’s not surprising he’d turn to crime.

    in the modern world, there might be other options should he not want to take up a life of crime, but in the days of the wild west, i’d assume opportunities are a little hard to come by.

    would that excuse it?
    not really, but that was the only life he knew, and he did seem to regret it looking back.

    at the start of the game, he’d attempted to leave that life, settle down with a family.
    but then these lawmen had intervened, kidnapped his family to force his compliance.
    these are the guys who were supposed to be upholding the law.

    what crime did John’s family commit?
    Jack and his mother were innocent.

    and then when the lawmen got what they wanted out of John, they executed him.

    maybe he would have returned to crime, maybe not, he had a family, and throughout the game it seemed like he wanted no more part of his old life.

    did he deserve to be punished for what he’d done in the past?
    probably.
    but did killing him make things better?
    who knows.

    John and his family might have gone on to lead peaceful lives.
    but the death of John drove Jack into becoming like his father, seeking revenge by murdering the man who killed his father.

    how many people would Jack end up killing following in his father’s footsteps?

  5. I never finished this game. I got near the end, my brother told me, but I lost all interest. Marston is an unreal character to me.
    He is a man who is completely foolish in that: He will follow the rules even if he gets tricked over and over again and in almost every mission that happens. He threatens several people but from the point where I got to it annoyed me how repetitive his behavior was and I did not want to see the game through because of that.

    Finding out that he dies from various spoilers it does not surprise me that he does die. Placing your trust in individuals who are not law abiding and following the orders of a government who keeps themselves far away from a vigilante agent surely foreshadows, to me, a terrible demise or a ridiculous hero ending.

    I’m not a smart guy and I consider myself foolish enough to trust strangers enough so that they can trick me. But Marston was a new type of foolish that can only be found in video game story-telling.

    The environments were cool but I can not forgive: Spanish actors voicing Mexican characters from a multi-billion dollar organization. Its called being lazy. The desert life was ridiculously over-populated: I lived in Arizona and just because its a video game doesn’t mean you need critters every 4 feet of travel.

    The game-play was fun I give that and the deserts and forests I give a 9! But the story, characters, and the wildlife I give them a 6.

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