|Stephen King character|
Randall Flagg as depicted by Michael Whelan
|First appearance||The Stand|
|Created by||Stephen King|
|Portrayed by||Jamey Sheridan|
|Nickname(s)||The Walkin' Dude
The Dark Man
The Man In Black
The Covenant Man
|Relatives||Sam Padick (father)|
Randall Flagg is a fictional character created by Stephen King. Flagg has appeared in at least nine novels by King, sometimes as the main antagonist and others in a brief cameo. He often appears under different names, usually initialled R.F. There are occasional exceptions, such as Flagg being most often associated with the name Walter o'Dim (a character King initially intended to be separate) in The Dark Tower series. Flagg is described as "an accomplished sorcerer and a devoted servant of the Outer Dark" with general supernatural abilities involving necromancy, prophecy, and unnatural influence over predatory animal and human behavior. His goals typically center on bringing down civilizations, usually through spreading destruction and sowing conflict.
The character first appeared in the novel The Stand as a demonic figure who wreaks havoc after a plague kills most of the population. He makes his second appearance in The Eyes of the Dragon as an evil wizard attempting to plunge the fictional medieval city of Delain into chaos. Flagg made several more appearances in King's epic series The Dark Tower as one of the main antagonists, in which he attempts to thwart protagonist Roland Deschain from reaching the Tower, the linchpin of all existence, so he can claim it for himself and become a god. The Dark Tower expanded upon Flagg's backstory and motivations, as well as connecting his previous appearances together.
Aside from King's novels, Flagg was featured in a television miniseries adaptation of The Stand, in which he was portrayed by Jamey Sheridan, as well as making appearances in Marvel Comics' adaptations of The Dark Tower and The Stand.
Stephen King initially attributed Donald DeFreeze, the lead kidnapper in the Patty Hearst case, as his inspiration for Randall Flagg. He later attributed Flagg's creation to an image of a man in cowboy boots, denim jeans and jacket always walking the roads that "came out of nowhere" when he was still in college. As King's self-described best villain, the nature of Flagg's character and evil has been the subject of much discussion by literary critics.
In novels 
Randall Flagg made his first official appearance in the 1978 apocalyptic novel The Stand. In it, he is trying to build a civilization in his name in the United States after a plague has killed off most of the population. Flagg is described as a "tall man of no age," clad in old blue jeans, a denim jacket, and worn cowboy boots. He wears an old Boy Scout knapsack, and his jacket pockets are stuffed with pamphlets from dozens of fringe splinter groups. Flagg’s backstory is vague, unknown even to him — Flagg states that at some point he just “became” — although he has memories of being a Marine, a Klansman, and a Viet Cong member, as well as having a hand in the kidnapping of Patty Hearst. Stationed in Las Vegas, Flagg attracts people who are drawn to destruction, power and fascism. Flagg uses crucifixion, torture, and other torments as punishment for those who are disloyal. His followers reorganize the society, and rebuild the city. Flagg plans to attack and destroy the other emerging civilization—Mother Abagail's "Free Zone" in Boulder, Colorado—to become the dominant society in the former United States.
After two of Flagg's followers fail to kill the leaders of the "Free Zone," the Boulder-based community sends a group of men to Las Vegas to stop Flagg. After being taken prisoner, the men are brought before the city for a public execution. Before Flagg can kill them, one of his most loyal and devoted followers, the Trashcan Man, arrives with a nuclear warhead. Just as Trash succumbs to radiation poisoning, "The Hand of God" appears and detonates the warhead, annihilating Flagg's followers and the two remaining prisoners. The novel was re-released in 1990, expanded to include the text that was cut during its original publication. Here, the novel explains that Flagg reappeared somewhere on a beach and gained a new group of individuals to control.
Flagg later appeared in The Eyes of the Dragon (1986), as an evil wizard causing havoc in the medieval country of Delain. Flagg is described as a "thin and stern faced man of about 50 [years of age]" despite being much older. His appearance is hidden under a dark cloak, and most of his magic comes from performing spells, and using potions and poisons. He is described as a "sickness" that always seems to reappear in Delain whenever there is something worth destroying. In this novel, Flagg schemes to throw the kingdom of Delain into chaos by poisoning the King and framing Prince Peter, the rightful heir to the throne, for the crime. Thomas, Peter's naive and often resentful younger brother, becomes king instead; Flagg, whom he views as his only friend, becomes his Royal Advisor. Due to his youth and his fearful inexperience, Thomas allows Flagg large amounts of power and is easily manipulated by the wizard. Flagg essentially becomes the de facto ruler of Delain, and he plunges the kingdom into a Dark Age. Years later, Thomas confronts Flagg over the murder of his father, something he witnessed as a child but was too frightened to prevent or admit to himself that he knew. Flagg is wounded by Thomas via an arrow to the eye, and vanishes from the kingdom. Peter is given the rightful throne, and Thomas leaves Delain with his butler Dennis to find Flagg. The book states that Thomas and Dennis find Flagg on their journey at some point in the future, but the exact nature of their encounter is never revealed and Flagg apparently survived to create chaos in later books.
In King's book Hearts in Atlantis (1999), a character by the name of Raymond Fiegler is identified toward the end as the leader of an activist group, when he prevents Carol Gerber from retrieving an unexploded bomb on a college campus. King never explicitly identifies Fiegler as Flagg, but Christopher Golden and Hank Wagner, co-authors of The Complete Stephen King Universe, suggest that there is little doubt Fiegler is Flagg. They present evidence of Fiegler's actions and persona, such as his ability to make himself appear "dim" (an ability that Flagg has in Eyes of the Dragon), his manipulation of Carol Gerber and her activist friends, as well as the fact that Flagg often uses many aliases, usually with the initials "R.F."
Randall Flagg would make the next several appearances as part of King's Dark Tower series, which follows gunslinger Roland Deschain as he travels the world(s) in search of the Dark Tower. Flagg's presence is felt at the very start of the series, with the opening sentence of the first book being "The man in black fled across the desert and the gunslinger followed." In this series, Flagg takes on the guise of several individuals. He first appears as Walter o'Dim, being chased across the desert by Roland. Here, he identifies his true self to be the demon Legion, and states that Roland must defeat him if he is to enter the tower. In flashback sequences, Flagg assumes the identity of Marten Broadcloak, a wizard who conspires with the Crimson King to cause the fall of the Dark Tower. As Marten, Flagg has an affair with Roland's mother, Gabrielle, and uses it in an attempt to provoke Roland into taking the gunslinger test early. His hope is for Roland to fail, so that he will be exiled, but Roland passes the test. Eventually, Roland catches Walter and they have a long discussion concerning Roland's destiny and the Tower, which causes Roland to slip into deep delirium. He wakes later to find a pile of bones in Walter's place. In the original printing, Walter and Marten are separate characters, with Walter clearly dying at the end of the novel. When Stephen King published an expanded edition of the novel, Walter and Marten are portrayed as being one and the same, and Walter fakes his own death.
Randall Flagg makes his next appearance in the series' third novel, The Waste Lands. Flagg appears in the city of Lud, where he saves the Tick-Tock Man Andrew Quick, an enemy of Roland's ka-tet, who was left for dead in an earlier confrontation. Quick becomes Flagg's devoted servant afterwards. In this guise, Flagg assumes the name of Richard Fannin. Flagg returns in the fourth book, Wizard and Glass, where he is officially revealed to be Marten Broadcloak. Here, he identifies himself as Flagg as well, and warns Roland and his ka-tet to abandon their quest for the Dark Tower. It is learned through flashbacks that Flagg, as Walter o'Dim, was the emissary for John Farson, one of the main individuals responsible for the destruction of Gilead, Roland's home.
In the "Argument" (a recap of the series so far that precedes the story) of Wolves of the Calla, the fifth novel in the series, it is noted that Flagg is known as Broadcloak, Fannin, and also John Farson, depending on what world he is residing in. In Wolves of the Calla, Flagg would make a brief appearance as Walter o'Dim when Father Callahan first arrives into Roland's world. Here, Flagg gives Father Callahan Black Thirteen, a dangerous crystal ball, in hopes that it will kill Roland on his journey to the tower. In this encounter, Flagg is described as having "the face of a human weasel" with "the same welling red circle" on his forehead as the Can-toi. The character's appearance in The Song of Susannah is set in a flashback, where it is revealed that Flagg made a bargain with the succubus Mia, which resulted in her giving birth to a son, Mordred Deschain, who was the child of both Roland and the Crimson King.
In the last novel, Flagg indicates that he is not John Farson, but merely served under him until Farson's downfall. Flagg reveals his plans to climb the Dark Tower and see the room at the top and become the God of all. Flagg's ultimate goal, however, is to kill Roland Deschain once and for all for all the trouble he's caused him, but "most of all for the death of his mother, whom I once loved." The character believes that the only way to achieve these goals is through Mordred, whom he sees as an opportunity to further his plans. Flagg attempts to befriend Mordred, pledging allegiance to him, but Mordred telepathically senses the wizard's true motives and kills him.
The Dark Tower reveals more of Flagg’s backstory, stating that he was born at least 1500 years earlier in Delain to Sam the Miller of Eastar’d Barony, and named Walter Padick. At the age of 13, Walter set out for a life on the road, but was raped by a fellow wanderer on his journey. (Bev Vincent hypothesized in The Road to the Dark Tower that Flagg's later actions towards Delain in The Eyes of the Dragon may have been revenge for his treatment as a child.) Resisting the temptation to crawl back home, Padick instead moved on towards his destiny learning various forms of magic and achieving a sort of quasi-immortality. After centuries of causing havoc, Flagg attracted the attention of the Crimson King, who took him as his emissary.
In 2013, King published a new story from The Dark Tower titled The Wind Through the Keyhole. In it, Flagg is depicted as the Covenant Man; a central villain in the book's story-within-a-story, 'The Wind Through the Keyhole', a legend from Mid-World that takes place years before the series began. He is the Barony's "tax collector" from Gilead, attempting to collect taxes from the residents of the small town of Tree. He sends the story's protagonist, a young boy named Tim, on a perilous quest through the Endless Forest to save his mother; unbeknownst to Tim, the Covenant Man is supplying him with false prophecies and misinformation to endanger him as part of a cruel practical joke. Tim succeeds however in his journey and saves his mother after encountering the wizard Maerlyn, who had been imprisoned in the form of a 'tyger'.
In film 
Stephen King had a hand in deciding who would portray Flagg for the television adaptation of The Stand. King felt Flagg was the best villain he had ever created, and he wanted the actor portraying him to be right for the part. The original ideas tossed around by director Mick Garris and the studios were to give the role to an established star such as Christopher Walken, James Woods, Willem Dafoe, or Jeff Goldblum. Miguel Ferrer, who played Flagg's henchman in the film, was interested in playing the villain.
King's idea for the role was someone who "would make the ladies' hearts go pitty pat, that looked like the type of guy you would see on the cover of one of those sweet, savage love paperback romances". He eventually persuaded the decision makers to cast a lesser-known actor as Flagg, which ultimately ended up being Jamey Sheridan.
Sheridan's performance was generally well received.Entertainment Weekly’s Ken Tucker wrote that the best acting came from Sheridan, who he said gave the character a “grim intensity”. Tucker commented on Sheridan’s physical appearance, stating that he has “leading-man looks” with the hair of a “dissolute heavy metal star”, which makes him “unsettling” even when he is not wearing makeup that makes him look like a devil. Douglas E. Winter, of Fangoria magazine, believed that Sheridan might have been a bit young and “zany” for the part, but he gave a credible performance as Flagg; Winter stated that Sheridan attacked the role “with the swagger of Elvis, the sway of David Koresh and as much craziness as your heart desires (and network TV allows)".
In February 2011, Warner Bros. announced plans to produce a new feature film adaptation of The Stand. King commented that he would like to see Dutch actor Rutger Hauer in the role of Flagg, but said that he may be too old for the part.
In comic books 
Starting in 2007, Marvel Comics released a series of comics that served as a prequel to the Dark Tower novels. Randall Flagg, appearing as both Marten Broadcloak and Walter o'Dim, plays a significant role in the series.
In April 2009, Marvel released a single-issue comic, written by Robin Furth and illustrated by Richard Isanove, titled The Dark Tower: Sorcerer, and focusing on the character of Marten Broadcloak/Walter o'Dim. Sorcerer gives an origin for the character which differs from the one that King initially wrote, stating that Walter was in fact the bastard son of the wizard Maerlyn and Selena, the Goddess of the Black Moon. Walter was left at the home of a mill owner, Sam Padick, "to learn the ways of men". At the age of thirteen, Walter burns down his adoptive father's mill before running away to find his true father. No mention of Walter's rape is given. Furth wrote in the afterword that the revelation that Maerlyn was Walter's father came from King himself. The comic also reveals that Marten had poisoned Roland's younger brother as an infant. Furth introduced the idea that the Bends o' the Rainbow, thirteen powerful magic spheres created by Maerlyn in the distant past, are sentient beings, and are able to project personifications that can interact with other characters. Marten is shown to have a sexual relationship with the female personification of Maerlyn's Grapefruit, one of the thirteen spheres. This is described as an incestuous relationship, since these thirteen beings were given life by Maerlyn, Walter's true father; Marten and the Grapefruit repeatedly refer to each other as brother and sister. The siblings also refer to the Crimson King as their 'cousin', indicating that Maerlyn is a relative of the Crimson King in some way. In her afterword, Furth states that, while she was the one who conceived these ideas, King approved them. According to the comic, it is Marten's romantic feelings for Roland's mother that spur the jealousy of the Grapefruit, who in turn influences Roland to unwittingly kill his mother. (In Wizard and Glass, the witch known as Rhea of the Cöos orchestrated Roland's matricide as revenge for him killing her pet snake.) Enraged, Marten imprisons his 'sister' in the Grapefruit and vows revenge on Roland for his involvement for his love's death. In addressing the inconsistencies between the novels and the comics, Furth stated that the comics exist within on another level of the Tower; "a spinoff world, one which is very similar to, but not exactly the same as the one where [the Dark Tower novels] take place". 
On writing the character of Marten, Furth opined that "[he] is one of the scariest characters that Stephen King has ever created. He moves from book to book, bringing chaos and anarchy with him...He is quite a demonic figure, and as such he is one of the great anti-heroes of contemporary popular fiction" and that "[j]ourneying into Walter's mind is a pretty wild experience and at times a little frightening. You have to travel to very dark places." In finding Walter's voice, Furth went to John Milton's Paradise Lost, William Blake's Proverbs of Hell, the Bible's Song of Solomon and the writings of Aleister Crowley for inspiration. 
Marvel later released an comic book adaptation of The Stand that began in September, 2008 and ran for thirty issues. Writer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa described Flagg as "The man of nightmares. Or, put another way, our nightmares given human (more or less) form. The dark side of the American Dream...King's 'Walkin' Dude' may not be the Devil, himself, as Mother Abagail says, but he comes pretty damn close..." Initially, artist Mike Perkins said that he felt that "Flagg needed to be designed less as a man—more as a force of nature. His hair will obscure his features, his face will be almost always in heavy shadow. This is the creature lurking under your bed, in your wardrobe, in your nightmares. Slightly familiar but wholly terrifying." Later on, Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa commented on original idea to never show Flagg's face: "...the further into the book and the adaptation you go, the less feasible that becomes. Stephen spends so much time describing [Flagg]'s features and smiles, you need to show those things." 
Concept and creation 
Stephen King initially attributed Donald DeFreeze, the lead kidnapper in the Patty Hearst case, as his inspiration for Randall Flagg. According to King, he was remembering the Patty Hearst case when he began to write a description of DeFreeze. King started by writing, "Donald DeFreeze is a dark man.” He remembered through the photographs taken of the bank robbery that Patty Hearst took part in that DeFreeze was only partially visible, hidden under a large hat. What he looked like was based on guesses made by people who only saw a portion of him. This inspired King, who then wrote, "A dark man with no face." After reading the motto, "Once in every generation the plague will fall among them," King set to work writing The Stand, and developing the character of Randall Flagg.
In 2004, King stated that Flagg's real inspiration just came to him "out of nowhere", while he was attending college. According to King, he just had this image of a man in cowboy boots, denim jeans and jacket, who was always walking the roads. This character inspired King to write "The Dark Man", a poem about a man who rides the rails and admits to murder and rape. To the author, what made Flagg interesting was the fact that he was a villain who was "always on the outside looking in". King has stated that he believes that Flagg has been present since he first began his writing career.
A common characteristic of Randall Flagg is his embodiment of evil. When Stephen King was first creating his vision of Flagg, he based him around what he believed evil to represent. To King, Flagg is “somebody who’s very charismatic, laughs a lot, [is] tremendously attractive to men and women both, and [is] somebody who just appeals to the worst in all of us.” This idea is carried into The Stand, Flagg’s first appearance in literature. Here, Flagg is characterized as the personification of evil set against Mother Abagail, the personification of good. The character of Tom Cullen describes Flagg as having the ability to kill animals and give men cancer simply by looking at them. Cullen goes on to refer to him as the demon Legion as well as the Lovecraftian entity Nyarlathotep. Stephen King wanted Flagg to represent a "gigantic evil", though the character was supposed to taper off by the end of The Stand. King stated, "I think the Devil is probably a pretty funny guy. Flagg is like the archetype of everything that I know about real evil, going back all the way to Charles Starkweather in the '50s — he is somebody who is empty and who has to be filled with other people's hates, fears, resentments, laughs. Flagg, Koresh, Jim Jones, Hitler — they're all basically the same guy." Though Flagg was never intended to represent Satan, that did not detract from what King sees as his ultimate goal. King notes that it does not matter who sees him, or how they see him — Flagg can appear differently to each individual — but that his message is always the same: "I know all the things that you want and I can give them to you and all you have to do is give me your soul."
Apart from King’s interpretation, literary critics have noted Flagg’s penchant for evil. Tony Magistrale sees Flagg as a Shakespearian villain, comparing him to such Shakespeare villains as Iago, Edmund, and Richard III, even going so far as to say that Flagg is an antihero. Magistrale states that Flagg’s evil is based on his ability to cause conflict where it has never been before, and destroy things simply because they are united; though he seeks power, that power is just a resource for him to achieve a higher degree of destruction. Heidi Stringell finds that Flagg truly is “an embodiment of pure evil” and that King sees good and evil as “real forces”, and that Flagg’s representation of pure evil is validated by the fact that “he is a killer, a maker of mischief, a liar, and a tempter”. To Stringell, Flagg’s disappearance at the end of The Stand shows that “evil ultimately leads nowhere”. The author goes into further detail when she calls Flagg a “generic hybrid” of the character archetypes “the Dark Man and the Trickster”. To her, it is the combination of these two characteristics, both found in different cultural realms, that force people to face their own “flawed humanity” with the “amorality” Flagg represents.
Douglas Winter believes that Flagg actually epitomizes the Gothic villain — an “atavistic embodiment of evil” — as his appearance is indistinct, malleable and a “collection of masks”. Flagg symbolizes “the inexplicable fear of the return of bygone powers — both technological and, as his last name intimates, sociopolitical”. Like other Gothic villains, Flagg’s plans seem to fail at every turn, while seeming to need to convince others of his importance. Winter states that Flagg is a Miltonic superman who receives his strength from some dark, mysterious source. He compares Flagg to J. R. R. Tolkien’s Sauron, from The Lord of the Rings, in that both collapse when directly confronted. Alissa Stickler describes Flagg as a “contemporary medievalist interpretation on the themes of evil, magic and the (d)evil figure”. Stickler likened Flagg’s presence to that of Merlin whispering in the ear of Arthur; she notes that Flagg is politically powerful in both The Stand and The Eyes of the Dragon, but that he uses his power differently in each novel and challenges the depictions of evil and witchcraft that was common in medieval times. First, she explains that there does not appear to be a higher power to which Flagg “must appeal to his abilities”, as there typically is with the traditional evil. Flagg appears more as a “humanesque evil”, which ultimately works against him as much as it does for him. Flagg’s supernatural knowledge is far from infallible, and that customary depiction of black and white is replaced with an “acceptance of a shadowy gray area”. She states that even though Flagg appears “terrifying and supernatural”, thanks to King’s narration, there are no absolutes. Stickler concluded that Flagg represents the medieval monster of both past and future, which challenges and at the same time supports the perception of the literary Middle Ages.
Flagg’s representation of evil has its detractors. In his essay "The Glass-Eyed Dragon", author L. Sprague de Camp criticized Flagg's appearance in Eyes of the Dragon, saying that Flagg was one of the least believable characters in the book and that he was too evil to be credible. According to de Camp, absolute evil is hard to believe in and, where men like Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin believed that they were actually bettering the world by their actions, Flagg only enjoys causing destruction and chaos. The author goes on to say that Flagg fails to see that there are no advantages in his actions.
Representing evil is not the only characteristic seen by critics. Joseph Reino commented that Randall Flagg presence in The Stand was "Stephen King's version of a pestilential Big Brother". Tony Magistrale revisited the character in a second book, this time comparing him to Norman Mailer. Here, Magistrale states that in The Stand Flagg gives the reader an “illustration of King’s jaundiced perspective of modern America”, as he presents the natural consequence of worshipping technology and sacrificing “moral integrity to the quest for synthetic productivity”.
Flagg's backstory as a victim of rape and the impact that it has on his characterization has been discussed. Patrick McAleer argues that Flagg's situation is the most sympathetic out of all of King's characters, and that his brand of evil could be of retribution; "[I]n suspending any disbelief in the possibility that reprisal is a reaction to rape, the life of Flagg becomes one that looks to strike a balance for the sexual crime committed against him. And although Flagg's possible search for justice and balance is that which becomes imbalanced and even prejudiced, the mitigating factor here is that Flagg is not an originator of evil - he is just caught up in its web as another wronged individual seeking justice." McAleer compares Flagg to the character of Satan from Paradise Lost, suggesting that he too may be a "fallen angel who has a valid case supporting his devilry." While pointing out that Flagg can be seen "relishing in evil deeds at almost every juncture", McAleer states that no judgement can be passed without the full story and context explaining his actions.
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