John Marston (character)

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John Marston
Red Dead character
John Marston (Character).jpg
John Marston as depicted in Red Dead Redemption 2
First gameRed Dead Redemption (2010)
Created byRockstar Games
Voiced byRob Wiethoff[1]
Motion capture
  • Rob Wiethoff
  • Marc Menchaca
  • Daniel Hall
  • Chris Comfort[2]

John Marston is a fictional character in the Red Dead video game series by Rockstar Games. Portrayed by actor Rob Wiethoff, he is a main character in the 2010 video game Red Dead Redemption and its standalone expansion, Undead Nightmare, and a supporting character in its 2018 prequel, Red Dead Redemption 2.

In his younger years, John was an outlaw who rode in the infamous Van der Linde Gang, committing multiple crimes. After the gang's downfall and eventual disbandment in 1899, he tries leaving his life of crime behind to become a rancher and a family man. After 12 years of hiding, he is located by the FBI in 1911 and forced to hunt down the last surviving members of his former gang in exchange for his family and his freedom.

The character was received highly positively, with many critics citing his maturity, moral complexity and ambiguity, and quest for atonement as focal points of the game. Furthermore, actor Rob Wiethoff's portrayal of Marston was also met with acclaim.

Character development[edit]

Red Dead Redemption required a large amount of voice work in order to feel alive. The team felt that the amount of voice work required for Redemption had been previously achieved in Grand Theft Auto IV, with prior experience to such amounts dating back to Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas (2004) and Bully (2006).[3] To cast the characters, the team held auditions; until actors were officially signed to the project, it was only known as an "untitled video game project", for secrecy.[4] In the game, Rob Wiethoff portrayed John Marston.[5]

The character of John Marston was developed to be a "family man".[6] The team developed him as a nuanced character, as opposed to a straightforward hero or villain, in order to provide an interesting experience.[7] Wiethoff considered Marston to be very determined about his goals. "He was a man about things," Wiethoff remarked.[4] He gave the character a perceptible sense of weariness and unlike other gaming protagonists, Marston is a not a hero but a criminal.[8] Technical director Ted Carson felt that Marston became interesting due to the combination of cynicism and realism.[7] Wiethoff felt that Marston was aware that his past actions were "wrong", resulting in his attempt to abandon his former life.[9] He stated that Marston's early decisions in his life were a direct result of his need for acceptance. "I don't know if he knew that what he was doing was wrong or not," Wiethoff said.[10] Palmer felt that the characters of Marston and Williamson represented siblings in their former gang, while Dutch was more of a parental figure. He stated that Williamson is envious of Marston, despite Marston being his "moral anchor". Palmer also felt that, after Marston left the gang, Williamson's life began to "tailspin" uncontrollably. "[A]s John grew into a man who conquered by achieving, Bill fell into a man who achieved simply by conquering," said Palmer.[11] When developing other characters, the team was inspired by various historical figures of the 20th century, including Frank James,[12] Pearl Hart[13] and Tom Horn.[14]

Fictional character biography[edit]

Red Dead Redemption I & II[edit]

John Marston was born in 1873 to a Scottish immigrant and a prostitute. In Marston's own words, it is hinted that his father might have been her pimp. John's mother died during childbirth and in 1881 his father died of unknown causes, possibly due to drinking.[15] When his father died, the 8-year-old John was sent to an orphanage where he spent the next four years. At the age of 12, he ran away and joined the Van der Linde Gang. Their leader, Dutch Van der Linde, taught John how to read, write, and shoot.[15] Over the next years, he would become one of the gang's most prolific members and commit multiple crimes, including murder, robbery, kidnapping, and theft. During that time, he also met his future wife Abigail Roberts, with whom he had a son, John "Jack" Marston, Jr., born in 1895.

After a botched ferry robbery in 1899, the Van der Linde gang is forced to flee to the high mountains of Ambarino, due to mounting government pressure to hunt them down. During their hectic escape, John is separated from the group and mauled by a wolf, receiving his signature scars.[16] After being forced to wait on a cliff for days, he is rescued by Arthur Morgan and Javier Escuella. After weeks of recovery, he reinserts himself back into the gang by robbing a train with several other gang members. After the gang tries to turn two rivaling families against each other in the Southern state of Lemoyne, his son is kidnapped and sold off to Saint-Denis by one of them. Enraged, he and the gang exact revenge but are forced to do jobs for the mob boss of the town, to whom Jack was sold. After Dutch decides to pull off a poorly planned bank robbery that goes awry, John is taken prisoner and moved to Sisika Penitentiary, where he is forced to work in a chain gang before he is to be hanged.[17]

After several months in prison, he is eventually rescued by Arthur Morgan and Sadie Adler, but has lost all faith in Dutch, whom he accuses of letting him get caught.[18] Over the following weeks, Arthur and John become more and more disillusioned over Dutch, who is further descending into madness. Arthur manages to persuade John to leave the gang with his wife and son when the time is right. After helping Dutch instigate conflict between the local Native Americans and the US Army, Dutch proposes a final train robbery which is supposed to set the gang for life. During the robbery, John is shot and falls off the train, where the rest of the gang leaves him to die.[19] However, he manages to survive the fall and the attacking Pinkertons and returns to the camp, where he and Arthur confront Dutch and the rest of the gang for their actions. Before a final shootout, however, the Pinkertons arrive with a small army, and Arthur and John get separated from the rest of the gang and are forced to shoot their way out. Arthur stays behind and dies at the hands of Micah Bell, who either kills him directly or lets him die from his tuberculosis.[20]

Over the next years, John tries to live an honest life as a family man and farmhand. However, he is constantly drawn back to his violent past, which deeply upsets Abigail. After he fights and kills several members of a neighbouring gang that stole the cattle of the ranch they were working on, an enraged Abigail takes Jack and leaves John. A saddened John fully dedicates himself to learning how to be a rancher and later buys a slap of land near Blackwater that he eventually turns into a ranch, Beecher's Hope. After Abigail and Jack return, he tries to lead an honest life but is at times forced to take up bounty hunting with Sadie to pay off his mortgage. Eventually, John comes across information leading to Bell's location. He, Sadie, and Charles go despite Abigail's pleas not to. In revenge for Morgan's death, John tracks down and confronts Bell, only to be shocked to see Dutch is with him. Upon seeing John, Dutch shoots Bell, allowing John to shoot down Bell, and takes his leave. John finds the gang's old money stash and uses it to fully pay off his loan. Afterwards, he formally marries Abigail, both looking forward to living a new life on their ranch.

In 1911, however, U.S. federal agents Edgar Ross and Archer Fordham from the newly formed FBI command John to act as bounty hunter and apprehend his former outlaw friends. To both motivate and ensure that John will comply, the agents kidnap his son Jack and wife Abigail, and hold them hostage, promising their release upon the completion of John's obligations.[21] Beginning in the town of Blackwater, John boards a train headed west to the town of Armadillo, where he meets with a guide named Jake. Jake guides Marston to Fort Mercer, where Bill Williamson and his own gang have taken refuge. Marston confronts and tries to reason with Bill outside the gates, but is instead shot down, suffering a bullet to the ribs.[22] He is found by a passerby: a woman named Bonnie McFarlane. Bonnie takes the wounded Marston to her ranch in Hennigan's Stead; while he recovers, Marston runs errands for Bonnie and her father, Drew, as a way to show his gratitude for saving his life.[23] After his recovery, John works with many individuals throughout the state of New Austin, which include local law enforcement (Marshall Johnson and deputies Jonah and Eli) in the town of Armadillo, traveling snake oil and con-man Nigel West Dickens, grave robber Seth Briars, and a drunk yet well-meaning man named Irish; all of whom agree to help him enter and assault Fort Mercer. Irish is able to locate a gatling gun, which is then concealed inside Nigel West Dickens' wagon. The group uses West Dickens' wagon and his snake oil business as a trojan horse, and assault Bill's gang at Fort Mercer. John, West Dickens, Irish, Seth, Jonah, Eli, and Marshall Johnson all survive and emerge victorious, but Bill is nowhere to be found in the fort. A surviving member of Bill's gang reveals that Bill has fled to Mexico with the help of Javier Escuella, another member of Marston's former gang.[24]

Marston, with the help of Irish, takes a raft to a northern region of Mexico called Nuevo Paraíso, in pursuit of both Williamson and Escuella. There, John becomes unwillingly entangled in a civil war between the rebels led by Abraham Reyes and soldiers in the region, led by Colonel Agustin Allende. Marston, only wanting information regarding Williamson and Escuella, reluctantly works for both sides. However, Allende betrays John, who is saved from execution by Reyes, and from there on, goes to work permanently with the rebels.[25] He eventually locates Escuella, who is hiding in a government fortress named El Presidio. In an assault on El Presidio, the player can decide whether to kill or capture and return Escuella to the Federal Agents (either choice results in Escuella's body being turned in to Edgar Ross and Archer Fordham).[26] The rebels then assault Allende's palace in Escalera. A chase ensues, but Marston and Reyes are able to stop Allende's stagecoach (which is also carrying Williamson). Allende is shot dead by Reyes. Bill attempts to reach for his pistol, but both John and Reyes fire at him, killing him.[27]

With the civil war in the region quelled and both Williamson and Escuella apprehended, Marston bids a farewell to Reyes, and heads back to Blackwater to collect his family. However, Edgar Ross tells Marston that his mission is not over, and that he must kill his former mentor, Dutch van der Linde. John is reluctant to do so, because of the fact that Dutch raised, fed, and cared for him; Marston, wanting the safety of his family ensured, knows he does not have a choice and accepts.[28] Dutch is leading a gang of angered Native Americans who share his resentment of the government in the snowy mountains of Tall Trees. John attempts several unsuccessful attacks on Dutch, until he and the US Army assault Cochinay, Dutch's hideout. John then chases Dutch through a cave system that eventually leads onto a cliff. Confronted and nowhere to go, Dutch then says he was only fighting for what he believed in, and that even after his death, the government will only find another individual to hunt down to "justify their actions". Dutch then steps off the cliff, committing suicide. With his old gang dead, John's family is returned to his ranch on Beecher's Hope, and is let go of the law's affairs.[29]

John returns to find his ranch in poor condition (due to the fact it was left in the care of his lazy friend named Uncle).[30] John begins to live as he always wanted: taking care of his ranch and family. John grows a stronger bond with his son Jack and his wife Abigail. John teaches Jack good morality and mannerisms; John does not want Jack to kill needlessly and live like an outlaw in the future. The days on his ranch are more or less peaceful, until one day, when Jack spots US army soldiers riding to the ranch; Edgar Ross, believing John to be the last member of the van der Linde gang that must be killed, turns his back on John and assaults John's ranch. John, Jack, and Uncle all bear arms and defend themselves; Uncle, however, is shot and killed. John defends his family as they flee to the barn on his ranch. There, he shares a final moment with Abigail and Jack; he instructs them to ride away and escape on horseback. They do so, and John, still in the barn, peers through the doors to see a line of soldiers, all ready to fire. He pushes open the doors and draws his gun, taking down as many soldiers as he can before they open fire. John is killed after a short struggle. Abigail and Jack return after the soldiers and Ross leave the ranch, and mourn over John's body. John's body is buried on a hillside at his ranch.[31]

In 1914, three years after John's death and shortly after Abigail's death, Jack, now 19 years old, comes to realize he is of age and strength to avenge his father. Jack manages to track down a retired Edgar Ross; the two duel, with Jack emerging victorious. Jack may have succeeded in avenging John, but in doing so, Jack became the very thing his father never wanted him to be: a killer.

Undead Nightmare[edit]

In Red Dead Redemption: Undead Nightmare, a non-canonical, zombie apocalypse-themed alternate reality, John finds that the world is plagued by a virus that brings the dead back to life with a taste for flesh. After killing an undead Uncle and tying up the infected Jack and Abigail, John rides to Blackwater, in search for a doctor. But he finds the town seemingly deserted, meeting Harold MacDougal, who had come back from Yale for "another round of research". Shortly afterwards, he is attacked by the undead Nastas and is also turned into a zombie. John purges Blackwater from the Undead and learns that the plague might be the fault of either Nigel West Dickens, Seth Briars, or the Mexicans. After visiting both men, John finds that neither has an idea what caused the virus and the only lead left is Mexico, which is rumored to be in better condition than America. Acquiring an army uniform, John heads to Mexico, only to find that the country is in even worse state. He learns from a nun that Abraham Reyes might be responsible and John heads there. He kills the zombified Reyes and finds a girl, who reveals that the reason for the virus is that Reyes had desecrated several catacombs beneath the government building, and had stolen an ancient Aztec mask, unbalancing order and unleashing the undead. John and the girl head down to the tombs and return the mask. John returns home to find that his family has been cured. Months later, after his death, John rises from his grave, as Seth has stolen the mask and once again caused the dead to rise. But John, being buried with holy water, is a revenant who still retains his soul and his capabilities to use weapons.[32][33]

Other appearances[edit]

In Grand Theft Auto Online, the online mode of Grand Theft Auto V, players can choose what their character is to look like by selecting between different parents; John is one of the special parents available, meaning that players can select John so that their character has a level of resemblance to him.[34][35]

Marston's hat appears as an easter egg in L.A. Noire, also published by Rockstar Games. It can be found at the start of "The Silk Stocking Murder" while following a trail of blood, hidden in a trashcan in an alleyway behind a police officer guarding the crime scene.[36]


Following the release of Red Dead Redemption, John Marston received positive reactions. He won award for the best new character of 2010 from GameSpot, who described him as "a fascinating, complex character" due to his attempt to abandon his life as criminal,[37] and from IGN, who commented on his sarcasm and his "struggle between good and bad behavior that makes him such an interesting and believable person."[38] The character was also a runner-up to be the Character of the Year at the 2010 Spike Video Game Awards.[39] In addition, Rob Wiethoff's voice acting was nominated at the Spike Video Game Awards for Best Performance by a Human Male, and in the Outstanding Character Performance category of the 14th Annual D.I.C.E. Awards.[40] In 2013, Complex ranked his performance as the second best voice acting in a video game.[41]

Network World stated John Marston "is a complicated character, having been a bad person who is trying to make things right."[42] The New York Times stated that "[John] and his creators conjure such a convincing, cohesive and enthralling re-imagination of the real world that it sets a new standard for sophistication and ambition in electronic gaming."[43] Machinima placed him seventh in their list of best beards in video games,[44] while UGO Networks listed him among the best gunslingers of entertainment.[45] In 2012, GamesRadar ranked John as the 14th "most memorable, influential, and badass" protagonist in games,[46] and also listed him as the fourth most badass game characters of the generation, saying he is "totally badass" due to his lack of need for special powers to complete tasks.[47] Similarly, Complex placed him 36th in their list of the most badass characters in video game's history.[48] They also cited the romance between him and his wife Abigail as the 19th most realistic in video games, citing he could easily betray his wife, but he did not do it.[49] GamesRadar further placed him at number 5 in a list of the 50 best game characters of the generation.[50] GameSpy's Mike Sharkey called John Marston a noticeable omission from the 2011 Guinness World Records Gamer's Edition's top 50 video game characters.[51] on Eurogamer, Simon Parkin described the character as a man who “clings” to his heritage, “a man in search of purpose and redemption in a world slipping from relevance.”[52] Kotaku criticized the confirmation that Marston would return in Red Dead Redemption II as they believed it would damage the impact of his conclusion from the original game.[53]


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  2. ^ Red Dead Redemption Game Manual, p.18
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  11. ^ Murphy, Denis (September 30, 2010). "Bill Williamson Speaks! An Interview With Steve J. Palmer". The Gaming Liberty. Archived from the original on October 5, 2014. Retrieved October 5, 2014.
  12. ^ R* Q (January 27, 2010). "The True West - History that Helped Inspire Red Dead Redemption. Bad Guys Gone Good... and Vice Versa - Part One: Frank James". Rockstar Newswire. Rockstar Games. Archived from the original on October 5, 2014. Retrieved October 5, 2014.
  13. ^ R* Q (February 12, 2010). "Bad Guys Gone Good... and Vice Versa - Part Two: Pearl Hart (The True West - History that Helped Inspire Red Dead Redemption)". Rockstar Newswire. Rockstar Games. Archived from the original on October 5, 2014. Retrieved October 5, 2014.
  14. ^ R* Q (March 5, 2010). "Bad Guys Gone Good... and Vice Versa - Part Three: Tom Horn (The True West - History that Helped Inspire Red Dead Redemption)". Rockstar Newswire. Rockstar Games. Archived from the original on October 5, 2014. Retrieved October 5, 2014.
  15. ^ a b Red Dead Redemption (Mission: "Women and Cattle")
    John Marston: "My father was an illiterate Scot, born on the boat into New York [...] My father died when I was 8 years old [...] My mother died during childbirth. She was a prostitute and he was her, well I don't know what he was [...] The leader of the gang taught me how to read. Taught me how to see all that was good in the world."
  16. ^ Red Dead Redemption 2 (Mission: "Enter, Pursued by a Memory")
  17. ^ Red Dead Redemption 2 (Mission: "Banking, The Old American Art", "Icarus and Friends")
  18. ^ Red Dead Redemption 2 (Mission: "Visiting Hours")
  19. ^ Red Dead Redemption 2 (Mission: "Our Best Selves")
  20. ^ Red Dead Redemption 2 (Mission: "Red Dead Redemption")
  21. ^ Red Dead Redemption (Mission: "And You Will Know the Truth")
    John Marston: I tried to leave, 'til those suits back there came a-knockin'. Threatened to kill my wife and son if I didn't go after him."
  22. ^ Red Dead Redemption (Mission: "Exodus in America")
  23. ^ Red Dead Redemption (Mission: "New Friends, Old Problems")
  24. ^ Red Dead Redemption (Mission: "The Assault on Fort Mercer")
  25. ^ Red Dead Redemption (Mission: "Cowards Die Many Times")
  26. ^ Red Dead Redemption (Mission: "The Gates of El Presidio")
  27. ^ Red Dead Redemption (Mission: "An Appointed Time")
  28. ^ Red Dead Redemption (Mission: "Bear One Another's Burdens")
  29. ^ Red Dead Redemption (Mission: "And The Truth Will Set You Free")
  30. ^ Red Dead Redemption (Mission: "The Outlaw's Return")
  31. ^ Red Dead Redemption (Mission: "The Last Enemy That Shall Be Destroyed")
  32. ^ "Red Dead Redemption's Undead Nightmare was more than a trendy zombie game".
  33. ^ Zwiezen, Zack. "The Good And Bad Of Red Dead Redemption's Multiplayer".
  34. ^ R* Q (26 August 2013). "More Details and Screens from the Grand Theft Auto V Special and Collector's Edition Digital Content". Rockstar Games. Retrieved 3 October 2013.
  35. ^ R* A (23 September 2013). "Some More Details on Grand Theft Auto Online". Rockstar Games. Retrieved 3 October 2013.
  36. ^ L.A. Noire (Mission: "The Silk Stocking Murder")
  37. ^ "Best New Character - The Best Games of 2010". GameSpot. Retrieved April 9, 2013.
  38. ^ "Best Character 2010 - John Marston (Red Dead Redemption) - PS3". IGN. Retrieved April 9, 2013.
  39. ^ "Nominees for Spike Video Game Awards 2010 revealed". Destructoid. November 17, 2010. Retrieved April 9, 2013.
  40. ^ "2011 Interactive Achievement Awards". Academy of Interactive Arts & Sciences. Archived from the original on February 2, 2013. Retrieved April 14, 2013.
  41. ^ Hester, Larry (April 14, 2013). "The 25 Greatest Voice Acting Performances In Video Games". Complex. Retrieved 13 October 2013.
  42. ^ Shaw, Keith (July 2, 2010). "Red Dead Redemption Review: Saddle Up, Partners!". Network World. Retrieved July 26, 2013.
  43. ^ Schiesel, Seth (May 16, 2010). "Video Game Review - 'Red Dead REdemption' Brings Old West to Life". The New York Times. Retrieved July 26, 2013.
  44. ^ (April 14, 2011). "Top 10 Beards in Gaming". YouTube. Retrieved August 2, 2013.
  45. ^ Jensen, K. Thor (February 22, 2012). "Best Gunslingers". UGO Networks. Retrieved August 2, 2013.
  46. ^ "100 best heroes in video games". GamesRadar. Retrieved May 5, 2013.
  47. ^ Cooper, Hollander (September 28, 2012). "The Top 7... Most badass game characters of the generation". GamesRadar. Retrieved May 5, 2013.
  48. ^ Avellan, Drea (February 1, 2013). "The 50 Most Badass Video Game Characters Of All Time". Complex. Retrieved August 2, 2013.
  49. ^ Armikhani, Justin (February 14, 2013). "The 25 Most Realistic Video Game Romances". Complex. Retrieved August 2, 2013.
  50. ^ "Best game characters of the generation". GamesRadar. Retrieved May 16, 2014.
  51. ^ Sharkey, Mike (February 16, 2011). "Guinness Ranks Your 50 Favorite Video Game Characters of All Time". GameSpy. Archived from the original on February 21, 2011. Retrieved May 18, 2014.
  52. ^ "Red Dead Redemption".
  53. ^ Alexandra, Heather. "I Love Red Dead Redemption, But I Don't Want To See John Marston Again".

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