||This article's plot summary may be too long or excessively detailed. (December 2007)|
||This article describes a work or element of fiction in a primarily in-universe style. (October 2011)|
|The O.C. character|
Benjamin McKenzie as Ryan Atwood
|Last appearance||"The End's Not Near, It's Here"
|Created by||Josh Schwartz|
|Portrayed by||Benjamin McKenzie|
|Full name||Ryan Francis Atwood|
|Nickname(s)||Chino (by Luke)
High school student
(at the Harbor School; graduated)
(at UC Berkeley; graduated)
|Family||Francis "Frank" Atwood
Sanford "Sandy" Cohen
(biological older brother)
Sophie Rose Cohen
(adoptive paternal grandmother)
Caleb and Rose Nichol
(adoptive grandparents; deceased)
(adoptive maternal aunt)
(adoptive maternal half-aunt)
|Significant other(s)||Theresa Diaz
(sister-in-law, via Seth)
|Residence||Newport Beach, California
Ryan Francis Atwood is a fictional character on the FOX television series The O.C., portrayed by Benjamin McKenzie. A troubled teenager from Chino, California, he is considered the protagonist of the show, beginning as an outcast and is brought to a lifestyle of luxury by the Cohen family and is given a second chance to pursue his life's goals and dreams.
The final line of the show is spoken by Ryan. At the very ending of the series finale, during a flashforward, Ryan leaves the construction site in which he works and as he walks towards his Range Rover he sees a kid in the same situation as he was in "Premiere". Ryan looks at the kid and says: "Hey, kid! Need any help?". The screen then fades out.
Concept and creation 
|"When Benjamin [McKenzie] came in, he wasn't physically what Josh had envisioned, but he inhabited the character unlike anyone we had seen. I think that the character of Ryan is a kid that always seems a little lost and has a sense of mystery and danger; Benjamin has all those qualities."|
|— Patrick Rush on the casting of Benjamin McKenzie as Ryan|
Rush found the role of Ryan Atwood particularly hard to cast and only invited Benjamin McKenzie to an audition after Warner Bros had made them aware of the young actor after his unsuccessful audition for a UPN sitcom. McKenzie lacked working experience and later described his selection as "a tremendous leap of faith" on the producers' part. Chad Michael Murray was originally offered the role of Ryan Atwood but turned it down for the lead role of Lucas Scott on One Tree Hill.
Having been physically abused by his biological father and some of his mother's boyfriends, Ryan finds it extremely hard to get close to anyone. Born and raised in a working class family, Ryan knows the lifestyle and attitudes of people from his neighborhood of Chino, California and the dangers that occur if outsiders are influenced by its environment. He is tough, cynical and quick-tempered, yet compassionate and empathetic toward people in trouble and those less fortunate than himself. He at times appears burdened by an almost-compulsive need to rescue others, however, and is overly protective of Marissa and Theresa, his main love interests on the show. The fact that he rarely smiles is something of a running joke among other members of the Cohen household.
Ryan's favorite fruit is peaches, and his favorite band is Journey. Some of his other extracurricular activities include soccer during his sophomore year of high school (first year in Harbor). Ryan (by his own words) used to play soccer before going to Harbor and a soccer ball is sometimes seen in the Cohen's pool house. And despite the generosity of his adoptive family, Ryan repeatedly demonstrates he can earn his own keep by taking paying jobs around town, such as a busboy at the Crab Shack, a construction worker, an intern at the Newport Group, and a barback position.
Character arc 
Season 1 
When he and his brother Trey are caught attempting to steal a car, his mother Dawn kicks him out. His attorney, Sandy Cohen, takes him into his home in Newport Beach, California, despite objections from Sandy's wife, Kirsten. Upon realizing his mother is unwilling to take care of him, however, Kirsten's maternal instincts kick in and she welcomes him to stay. Ryan becomes part of the Cohen family, living in their pool house and becomes a brother to Sandy and Kirsten's son, Seth Cohen; even Sandy and Kirsten consider him their second son. However, even though he is accepted by the immediate Cohen family, Kirsten's father Caleb Nichol and the Cohen's neighbor Julie Cooper have reservations about Ryan. Shortly after meeting her, he begins a relationship with Marissa Cooper, his next-door neighbor.
Ryan's relationship with Marissa is interrupted by Oliver Trask, a deeply disturbed boy Marissa meets in therapy who becomes obsessed with her. Ryan becomes suspicious, which brings significant trust issues between the couple, eventually resulting in a breakup, although they remain friends.
At the same time, Theresa Diaz, Ryan's childhood sweetheart, comes to Newport, resulting in a rekindled romance between them. However, Theresa leaves Newport after her fiancée Eddie, one of Ryan's friends in Chino, arrives and convinces her to return to Chino with him. Ryan and Marissa resume their relationship shortly after, but this is complicated when Theresa returns after suffering domestic abuse by Eddie. Theresa reveals she is pregnant, but does not know whether the father is Ryan or Eddie. Upon reflection, she decides to keep the baby and return home to Chino to be with her mother. Feeling compelled to help her bring up the child, Ryan decides to go with Theresa, leaving Marissa, the Cohens, and everything else in his life behind.
Season 2 
Having quit school and working in construction, Ryan lives with Theresa, but she realizes he is unhappy and encourages him to visit Seth in Portland, Oregon, where he ran away following Ryan's departure. He hesitantly goes, hoping to convince his friend to go home to his parents before the fall semester starts, but while he stays in Portland, Theresa notifies him through the telephone she has miscarried. Although Ryan is devastated and wants to return to her, Theresa refuses and tells him he needs to go back to Newport with Seth.
As part of Seth's idea of a reunion of the "Fab Four" (consisting of Ryan, Marissa, Seth and his girlfriend Summer Roberts), Ryan and Marissa are pulled closer together. When he overhears a conversation of Marissa admitting to Summer that Ryan is the only one she ever loved and that she misses him every day, he also confesses his own lingering feelings for her. The two get back together, just as Ryan's brother Trey is released from jail. Ryan, along with the Cohens and Marissa, attempt to get Trey back onto his feet. However, during his trip to Florida with Sandy and Seth to pay Sandy's mother,a visit, Trey tries to rape Marissa while intoxicated on drugs. Marissa does not tell anyone, causing tension with Ryan, who suspects she cheated on him with Trey. After he questions his brother, who hides away at a bar in Chino and blames a drunken Marissa, Ryan bumps into Theresa and confides in her his problems. She tells him that out of the two, Marissa would never hurt him and she would be the one to trust. Following Theresa's advice, Ryan makes up with Marissa.
Meanwhile, Sandy becomes concerned with Kirsten's alcoholism and decides to stage an intervention. Ryan himself is more than aware of her drinking, and reassures Sandy he is doing the right thing. Ryan takes part, stating that, having lost his mother to alcoholism, he would not be able to bear it if he lost someone else he loved to the bottle. Following similar statements of love from the rest of the Cohens, Kirsten gives in and checks herself into rehab. When Marissa finally tells Summer about Trey, Summer is quick to inform Seth. Seth, knowing he cannot lie to Ryan, tells him, who prompts an immediate confrontation with his brother. The two brothers start a fight, in which Trey almost kills Ryan. Marissa turns up and shoots Trey in the back with his own gun.
Season 3 
Trey survives the gunshot, but remains in a coma. When he regains consciousness, Marissa's mother Julie blackmails him to place the blame on Ryan so Marissa's innocence will clear her reputation in society, but following Ryan's initial arrest, Marissa convinces him into telling the truth. With Ryan's charges dropped, Trey finally flees Newport, leaving Marissa expelled from Harbor High to instead attend public school. When she befriends amateur surfer Johnny Harper, Ryan becomes suspicious of their closeness, fueling their on and off relationship. After Johnny dies in an accident, Ryan questions Marissa's true feelings towards Johnny, ending their relationship. Following their split, Marissa begins spiraling down a disastrous relationship with Kevin Volchok, Johnny's former surfing rival, while Ryan develops his own rivalry against Volchok, including instances of blackmail, extortion and violence.
In the season finale, Ryan, Marissa, Seth and Summer finally graduate high school, following their prospective futures; for his part, Ryan decides to attend Sandy and Kirsten's Alma Mater, the University of California, Berkeley. Elsewhere, Volchok attempts to blackmail Ryan, threatening to inform the authorities of Ryan's earlier involvement in a robbery which he was forced to assist him with. In an effort to fulfill Volchok's ransom, Marissa gives Ryan her mother's graduation gift: pearls he could pawn off for the money. Volchok doesn't accept the money, demanding more, including a talk with Marissa, which she refuses, instead staying with Ryan. While Ryan drives Marissa to the airport, Volchok, drunk and furious, attempts to crash Ryan's car. In a blind rage, he sideswipes Ryan's vehicle, knocking it over a barrier to roll down an embankment. After recovering himself from the accident, he sustains no serious injuries, but discovers that Marissa has suffered severe head trauma; she dies in his arms on the side of the road.
Season 4 
Following Marissa's death, Ryan moves into a storage closet at bar where he works, while avoiding the Cohens, and resorting to cage fighting as a way to release the anger of his loss. Julie, finding any way necessary to cope with her grief, hires a private investigator to dig up evidence of Volchok's whereabouts, in hopes of exacting her revenge. She passes her discovered information of him onto Ryan, the only person who can truly understand the pain she feels, and suggests he do with Volchok whatever he wishes, as giving the police the information is too valuable a deal to pass up. Using this information, Ryan heads to Mexico to finish the job, but after Seth overhears his intentions, he tags along to insure Ryan doesn't ruin his life by committing murder. To do so, Seth warns Volchok to leave town before Ryan gets to him and advises that he take advantage of his lawyer father. After his plan fools Ryan, with Sandy and Kirsten appearing to convince him into his return home, he unwillingly does so; his relationship with Seth is severely compromised, however. Heeding Seth's advice, Volchok contacts Sandy to be his defense attorney, although Ryan discovers it. Sandy, knowing Ryan would never kill anyone, drives him to the hotel where he's temporarily housed Volchok. Inside, Ryan immediately leaps into an attack, putting a broken bottle against Volchok's throat; he spares Volchok's life at the last minute, however, leaving him for the police.
Ryan settles back down to life in Newport, determined to have an uneventful summer, until Taylor Townsend returns from France trapped in a loveless marriage, seeking a divorce. Ryan is reluctantly drawn in and, during a heart-to-heart conversation with Sandy, he is reminded that he's always been the one to help people when they truly need it the most. Ryan kisses her in front of her husband's lawyer, who can grant a divorce only if one member was unfaithful and agrees that their kiss was true and heartfelt. Seth warns Ryan that Taylor is unstable and clings to anyone who shows her kindness; while Ryan appreciates the notion, he admits that he is not yet over Marissa and decides to confront Taylor; she initially denies her own feelings, but later confesses that she is attracted to him. Following a second kiss, the idea being to discover if it would spark any feelings, he exclaims to himself, "Whoa," and admits he does like her, except that he does not want anything too serious.
During Chrismukkah (a combination of Christmas and Hannukah celebrated at the Cohen house), Ryan discovers a letter in the mail from Marissa, but gets distracted by Kirsten. While he's later hanging decorations on the house roof, Taylor arrives with her gift to him; he is preoccupied by Marissa's letter, however, and acts coldly towards her. When she forces herself up the ladder he's working on to angrily give him his present, the ladder falls, along with the two of them, knocking them both unconscious. While in the hospital, Ryan and Taylor dream of being in an alternate dream universe of Newport, instead being as if Ryan had never been adopted by the Cohen family. When Taylor misunderstands a conversation with a housekeeper from this world, she informs Ryan that Marissa is alive; Ryan says he never wants to wake up so he can be with her again. When he finds out of her arrival at an airport from Berkley and goes to meet her, he only finds this world's version of Marissa's sister Kaitlin, who tells him that Marissa had died of the overdose he had saved her from. In the real world, Kirsten shows Julie Marissa's letter to Ryan, which she had written to Ryan before she left for Greece. In the letter, Marissa states she had to leave because, even though she still loved him, they could not be together. After Julie sets the note beside an unconscious Ryan, it appears for him to read in his dream, during which he realizes he has to forgive himself for Marissa's death and find the strength to move on. Moments later, he regains consciousness.
Days later, Ryan finds out from Sandy that his biological father, Frank Atwood, is out of jail and wishes to see him. Ryan is initially hesitant, recalling the abuse he suffered at Frank's hands, but Frank convinces him with a diagnosis of lung cancer. However, following dinner with the Cohens, a suspicious Sandy reveals Frank was lying about the cancer, and an embarrassed Frank leaves Newport, although he returns apologetically and with help from Taylor, forms a tentative relationship with his son.
Meanwhile, Taylor's ex-husband Henri-Michel comes to Newport on a book tour for his best-selling novel about their marriage. Feeling insecure about Taylor's exotic life in France, Ryan breaks up with her, claiming they are both "too different". A week later, Ryan decides he was wrong, but discovers it might be too late as Taylor is already considering a reconciliation with Henri, who still loves her. In a moment of desperation, Ryan upstages a poetry reading by Henri at a local book store with a poem of his own, where he confesses he can grow to love Taylor, given time.
Series finale 
As a way to make up for giving a pocket dictionary for her nineteenth birthday, Ryan gives Taylor his original present of a bound book full of love poems she translated for him. He admits he loves her, but as they reconcile, an earthquake hits Newport. Fortunately, the two survive, but Ryan is injured from protecting Taylor and is brought to the hospital for recovery. Six months later, Ryan and Taylor spend time together before she leaves Newport for college in Paris. Ryan thanks her for saving him from self-destruction and he and the Cohens depart from their Newport home, damaged beyond repair, to Sandy and Kirsten's old home in Berkeley, California, while Seth is leaving for RISD.
In a flashforward, Ryan attends UC Berkeley, where Sandy is now a law professor, and graduates. Ryan sticks around the Cohen home in Berkeley to help Sandy and Kirsten raise his adoptive sister, Sophie Rose. At Seth and Summer's wedding, he is made best man and shares a smile with Taylor, the maid of honor (their relationship status is left ambiguous). Ryan achieves his dream of becoming an architect and, as he walks away from the construction site, he notices a teenager down on his luck, seemingly in the same situation Ryan was when he was kicked out of his home. As he offers the youth help, Ryan's story comes full circle.
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