In more than any other area, Red Dead Redemption 2 (RDR2) excels in its characters. From the central heroes and villains we follow from beginning to end, to the minor players we meet only briefly, the game excels at bringing its characters to life. More importantly, it includes these characters for a reason. Almost without exception, the characters in RDR2 serve a purpose by being there. None are extraneous or arbitrary.
What follows is a list of the ten best characters in RDR2. Some of the chosen characters are here because of the depth and nuance of their creation. Others are present not necessarily because of their individual importance, but rather due to the profound ways they affect Arthur. And one of the characters here, well, okay, he might not be that important, but he gets a spot anyway. We’ll start with him.
10. Charles Châtenay
Charles Châtenay is a ridiculous person; a farcical send-up of the cliched French romantic. Ostensibly an artist, he is clearly more concerned with bedding as many women (and men?) as possible. His art seems more a means than an end, and he’s actually quite forthright about this.
Nearly all of Charles’ quests require Arthur to help him escape from one angry husband or another, and Arthur reluctantly obliges. It’s hard to argue that these quests shape Arthur in any meaningful way, but they do inject some much-needed levity at a point in the story where things have gotten quite dark.
9. Sister Calderón
Sister Calderón appears only briefly in RDR2, but boy does she make her moments count. As the van der Linde gang spins into oblivion, and Arthur faces the prospect of looming death, Sister Calderón is a perfect foil to reflect the good in Arthur; to show him that he is not, in fact, a bad man.
Her value to the story, and to Arthur, is most clear when Arthur sees her at the train station in chapter 6. The conversation they have, in which Arthur pours his heart out to her, revealing his past tragedies and his fear of dying, is arguably the most powerful scene in the entire game. For no other character would Arthur have opened up like that. Sister Calderón, as minor a character as she may be, gives him that opportunity.
8. Edith Downes
Despite the game’s title, few characters in RDR2 actually earn a measure of redemption. Some clearly belong in hell. Arthur, though, does redeem himself, at least partly, in his attempt to undo some of the harm he caused the Downes family. Principally, this is done through his awkward and painful encounters with the desperate Edith Downes, who has been reduced to prostitution after the death of her husband.
Crucially, Edith does not request or even appreciate Arthur’s attempts to make amends, and she dislikes him to the end (as she should). She offers Arthur a path to restitution, but not forgiveness, which is probably what he deserves.
7. Rains Fall
Rains Fall edges close to the Old Wise Man stereotype, but he shows just enough flaws to be a remain a believable and important influence in Arthur’s life. Fairly obvious parallels can be drawn between the Native Americans and the van der Linde gang, in that each group’s way of life, unwanted by society, is disappearing.
More interesting, though, is Rains Fall’s role as a model for what Arthur could have possibly become, had he been given more time. Rains Fall, as measured and soft-spoken as he is in old age, relates that he was far more wild in his youth. It is clear that he was not always a peaceful man, and the wisdom he possesses now was gained through hardships and mistakes. One can envision a hypothetical elder Arthur in a similar light.
6. Dutch van der Linde
Dutch is a frustrating character to examine. He continuously makes terrible choices, leads his gang astray, and does not really experience any sort of major character arc over the course of the story. His judgement seems so poor, in fact, that it’s hard to believe he ever ran a successful criminal outfit.
His saving grace, though, is his charisma. His force of personality and silver tongue are powerful tools, and allow him to wield power he otherwise doesn’t deserve. They are the reasons he attracts followers, and why he can occasionally be appealing to the player. Lying underneath his charm, though, is a monstrous narcissism, which leaves us, as an audience, with a crucial question: Did Dutch ever really believe in the free, wondrous life he raptures on about in his soliloquies? Or was he just in it for the power and glory?
5. John Marston
In RDR2, John Marston is an unformed thing. He’s got a kid and a baby mama, but he’s fairly aimless, and doesn’t seem to know what he wants out of life. At first, Arthur resents him, and part of what he seems to dislike about John is simply that he has more life in front of him, with more possibility. Arthur, at this point in his life, is entrenched in the van der Linde gang. He cannot leave it. But John still might be able to.
What emerges in John in the second half of the story is a strong moral center. He recognizes that Dutch has gone off the rails and the gang has lost its way. Arthur recognizes the good in John and instead of resenting his potential for a better life, he cherishes it. The salvation of John, Abigail and Jack become Arthur’s central purpose. In short, John Marston, and what he could become, is Arthur’s redemption.
4. Sadie Adler
She’s just a fucking badass. Well, okay, there’s more to her than that. Sadie represents what can happen to someone when their world is destroyed. Once Colm O’Driscoll and his gang kill Sadie’s husband, she’s got nothing left to live for except revenge. She has little desire to build any sort of “new life.” Rather, she wants to tear down the lives of anyone who’s wronged her.
Sadie is a likable character, and a strong ally to both Arthur and John, but as the story goes on it becomes clear that Sadie’s psyche is damaged beyond repair.
3. Charles Smith
There’s a saying that goes, “A good friend bails you out of jail; your best friend is sitting in the cell beside you.” Well, Charles Smith is somehow both. He is the ultimate bro, and a tremendous friend to both Arthur and John. Many times throughout the story he comes to their aid, and when he asks for help, it’s usually so he can help somebody else (e.g. Rains Fall and Eagles Flies).
Charles is likely the best person in RDR2. We get the sense that he belongs to Dutch’s gang not for money or to raise hell, but because he had nowhere else to go. His lifestyle is one of an outlaw, but his desire is to do some good in the world. RDR2 features a bleak world full of nasty people. It was nice to have one White Knight present, and Charles was that person.
2. Micah Bell
Wait! Don’t go! Don’t click out of the article!
I get it. You hate Micah. He is awful. But that’s the reason he’s here. Just how much we all despise the man is a testament to his strength as a character. Micah is irredeemable; rotten to the core. There is no good in him, and this comes through loud and clear. Name a negative character trait: greed, selfishness, recklessness, callousness. Micah has them all.
As the story progresses, and it’s revealed that Micah is working with the Pinkertons, he becomes even more loathsome. The Pinkertons, merciless agents of change, are trying to destroy the world the van der Linde gang so cherishes — one where people can live their lives free from the restraints of civilized society. In other words, the life of a cowboy. By helping them, Micah actively works to destroy the life the gang is striving for. He’s a betrayer to his own kind, and a tremendously effective villain.
1. Arthur Morgan
It could be no one else.
Arthur Morgan is one of the best-written characters in video-game history. He’s a man at odds with a changing America, but more importantly, he’s at odds with himself. As Arthur expresses at one point in the game, loyalty has been the watchword of his life. Having known little else but the lifestyle Dutch has shown him, Arthur has been a devoted soldier and servant, rarely questioning the orders he is given.
Until, that is, he sees that Dutch has changed; that Dutch’s supposed aim to shepherd his gang to some sort of bucolic Eden is gone, and has been replaced by a desperate need to save himself. And as Arthur gradually loses faith in Dutch, he uncovers layers in himself he never knew existed, and we see a man who could have gone down an entirely different path in life.
Arthur Morgan is not a good man, but he is not a bad man either. Juxtaposed against a monster like Micah Bell, we see a person who is a criminal and a killer, but also a protector and a provider. Arthur will do anything for the people he loves, and we see this at the end of the story, when he does everything in his power to help John and his family escape.
Ultimately, Arthur is simply a relatable human being, beautifully drawn. Like all people, he has flaws, but he also has strengths. In the end, he gives himself over to the better half of his nature, and in doing so, finally redeems himself.
- This article was updated on:February 4th, 2020