Comprehensive spoilers for Red Dead Redemption 2 follow.
I’ve been sitting on this one for a long time. Partly because I want to avoid the risk of spoiling what is one of the best character arcs in gaming for those who’ve yet to experience it, but mostly because I feel like it’s a part of Red Dead Redemption 2 that speaks for itself, a devastating line that is so simple yet says so much.
“I gave you all I had…I did.”
These aren’t the last words Arthur speaks before he finally succumbs to his tuberculosis, but they’re perhaps his most potent. They aren’t his most poetic, either (his “farewell tour” where he talks to everyone he’s met on his last legs shows a previously unknown depth to him), but for the effect they have on Dutch and how much they show his growth as a character, these eight words are a punch to the stomach.
Though he may have physically taken a tumble off a cliff in the first game, it was Arthur’s words that sent Dutch into the spiral that eventually killed him.
After stubbornly powering on even when the writing was clearly on the wall, Dutch lost sight of everything he was and held dear, including those closest to him. Arthur’s admission that he was merely a pawn in Dutch’s neverending nonsense showed the latter just how poorly he’s treated him, how much he’s manipulated and depended on Arthur as a simple grunt rather than the surrogate son he should have been. The sentence shocks him to his core, the wordsmith finally undone not by a hail of bullets, but by the truth — something Dutch had avoided for many years.
The line also shows just how much Arthur’s eyes had been opened over the course of the game. Starting off very much as a spokesperson (or, rather, “fistperson”) for the gang, Arthur evolves from a debt collector with the depth of a puddle to someone who knows the difference between right and wrong. Arthur is repeatedly called a lackey, something which he doesn’t take too kindly to, but this final admission of that fact can’t have been easy for him, to show even more vulnerability at his most vulnerable state, to confront the closest thing he has to a father about both of their failings.
I grew to love this gruff, sharp-edged man, helped immensely by the stellar performance of Roger Clark. His final few scenes cut deep, including a remarkably detailed post-mission scene in which Arthur sits down, the disease ravaging him as he coughs away. I looked on helpless: I didn’t want him to suffer, so I just put my DualShock where it was for a few minutes, giving him the rest he deserved.
Make no mistake, Arthur Morgan was not a good man, but he wasn’t a bad man, either. He belongs firmly in the grey area, and sometimes that makes the most compelling character.
Red Dead Redemption 2 is out now for PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Stadia.
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