Rockstar has a track record of creating some of the most impressive characters with incredible nuance throughout its expansive portfolio, perhaps none more so than the amazing cast of characters assembled in Red Dead Redemption and Red Dead Redemption 2. From strong saviors like Bonnie MacFarlane to loathsome scoundrels like Micah Bell, Rockstar’s western frontier is rife with intricate characters, each with their unique motivations and personalities, and that is abundantly clear with the franchise’s two main playable characters, Arthur and John.
Despite players controlling both John and Arthur through their critically-acclaimed journeys where they experience tragic character arcs, neither man is actually the main character of either game. The main character of both Red Dead Redemption and RDR2, and the series as a whole, is in fact the gang’s notorious leader Dutch van der Linde. Dutch is not only one of the series’ most interesting characters, with his charismatic Robin Hood persona-turned-paranoid maniac character arc, he is also the driving force for the narrative.
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As the progenitor of the Van der Linde gang, Dutch is the catalyst that sets in motion not only the two games’ overall plot, but also the individual character journeys of everyone within the gang – with particular emphasis on John Marston and Arthur Morgan. Dutch taking in both the playable characters after being orphaned at young ages sets up the gang’s future, but it also turns Dutch into a pseudo-father for them, thus shaping the impressionable young boys into the complicated and conflicted outlaws John and Arthur become. The Red Dead Redemption series is a tale of a failing father, told through the eyes of his sons.
Why Dutch Is The Main Character In Red Dead Redemption
From the onset of the gang, during Arthur’s and John’s formative years, Dutch educated and trained them while also impressing upon them his views of a romanticized western frontier where people were absolutely free, with no law to oppress them and altruistic to their core. He raised both men to be kind and help those in need, and in the early years of the gang, before the events of RDR2, they shared their wealth with the poor and ill, furthering cementing this philosophy in John and Arthur. Long before Dutch’s plans began to unravel, the gang was very successful in their Robin Hood endeavors, pulling off large heists and helping those around them. This carried over into the growth of the gang as well, as Dutch continually welcomed in new members that were on their last legs, giving them new hope and helping them find a new life.
Dutch’s hamartia, though, was always his pride, and that is on full display in the events of RDR2 and the consequences that come in Red Dead Redemption. Dutch is certain that he knows best in every situation, and his blind ambition for building a grand life leads to his betrayals of the gang’s members and its eventual destruction. Arthur serves as Dutch’s loyal first-born, who despite questioning him sticks by Dutch’s side until the gang’s bitter end. Dutch and John have a rougher relationship, though, which serves to distance John from Dutch and sets him up as the son to eventually turn on him. Both sons thus play key roles in Dutch’s story as the two sides of his tragic downfall.
The two Red Dead Redemption games actually serve as one large narrative of Dutch van der Linde and the effects he had on the gang, with particular focus on the raising of his sons in his image as a mirror of frontier life and the dreams of pioneers and outlaws in the Wild West. The expanded lore within the franchise tells players of the events that came before the two campaigns and functions as the protasis or prologue for Dutch, telling the story of how he formed the gang and brought in John and Arthur, thus giving players the characters and setting of the story. RDR2 serves as the story’s epitasis that comes in directly on heels of the story’s initial conflict in Blackwater, which closes out the prologue.
The events of RDR2 provided the rising action, as Dutch continues to lead the gang into failure after failure with his countless get-rich-quick schemes. The downward spiral of his character is juxtaposed by Arthur’s narrative, which no matter how dishonorably players behave is still the tale of a man who regrets his bad deeds and wants to leave the world in a better place than he found it. This is a fitting counter to Dutch’s increasingly selfish and greedy actions, as Arthur’s good nature is a direct reflection of Dutch raising him that way.
Through it all Arthur remains loyal to him, even as Dutch has one bad plan after another. Those failures run all the way up to the climax of Dutch’s story in which he betrays both his “favorite sons” by first leaving John for dead and doing the same to Arthur shortly after. His pride led to each of his bad decisions in RDR2 and is the driving force of these betrayals – and thus his tragic downfall.
The epilogue of RDR2 serves both as a closure to the game and the setup for Red Dead Redemption, as John Marston’s actions tell the entire fourth act of Dutch’s tragic tale. First, at the close of RDR2 John hunts down the traitor Micah Bell, only to have Dutch be the one to deal the fatal blow. Years later Marston is exploited into hunting down his former gang members and father figure as the primary narrative of Red Dead Redemption. As John kills his former gang members he is in fact cleaning up Dutch’s mess, putting to rest all the damage the gang’s leader had done, and deepening Dutch’s tragedy by forcing more blood onto John’s hands.
Even once Red Dead Redemption players reach Dutch for their final standoff they aren’t able to do anything, and instead are treated to an epic cutscene of the former father figure delivering one last speech. To fully cement his tragic legacy, Dutch’s final act is one of both pride and mercy, taking his own life so he could go out on his own terms while also sparing a son from having to kill his father.
Were the series to end their it would have been incredible in its own right, but Rockstar took Dutch’s story one step further with John being betrayed after finally dismantling the Van der Linde gang. A crooked lawman double-crossing John is even more poetic irony after learning of Dutch’s deep history of distrust for the law, as is the fact that the reason they were after John was because of all the terrible situations Dutch led him through. The denouement of Rockstar’s epic tragedy is finally unveiled in the epilogue of Red Dead Redemption as players take over as Jack Marston years after his father’s death, and set out on a quest for revenge against the corrupt lawman Edgar Ross.
While this may seem a deviation from Dutch’s story, it is fact the fitting end thanks to the expansion on Jack’s character in RDR2. Both Hosea and Dutch served as grandfather figures for Jack, and were instrumental in his upbringing. Just as Dutch raised up Arthur and John, so too does he directly and indirectly bring Jack up on the same manner. Unlike John and Arthur, who had a childhood before the gang, Jack did not. His entire existence was shaped by his upbringing the Van der Linde gang, the traumas, that happened there, and his family’s desperate to escape. For the entire tale of Dutch’s gang to reach one of its last remaining members killing a retired lawman in a duel brings Dutch’s story full circle at the close.
As Jack holsters his gun and walks away, the ambiguous ending of Red Dead Redemption hits home. Regardless of what Jack does from that point forward, Dutch’s tragic tale has been told. Whether he leans into his new life as an outlaw – thus carrying on Dutch’s legacy of anarchy and ambition – or finally finds the life of freedom his family so deeply wanted for him – and ending Dutch’s last hope of the Wild West – his life has been irrevocably shaped by Dutch, just as his father’s and uncle’s lives were before him. Arthur’s tragic end in Red Dead Redemption 2, John’s heartbreaking betrayal in Red Dead Redemption, and Jack’s uncertain future, already with blood on his hands, are all chapters in the larger narrative of Dutch van der Linde’s epic failure as a father whose sons paid the price.
Next: RDR2: Why Dutch Decided To Keep Kieran Around
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