The great thing about prequels is that we learn a lot about characters we thought we knew. We grew to love John Marston throughout Red Dead Redemption, and we thought we knew all there was to know about him. That is, until Red Dead Redemption 2 came along, and we realized that we barely knew him at all.
Arthur and John's relationship is the heart of Red Dead Redemption 2. Yes, the story is primarily about Arthur's redemption, but it is through their relationship that we see the redemption taking place. And just as Arthur changes throughout the story, so too does John. Both start the story as immoral and violent men, and both end in better places having gone through their respective redemptive arcs. One could certainly argue that the "redemption" of Red Dead Redemption 2 is about both John and Arthur. Yes, John had his redemption in the first game as well, but hey, no one said that life is one straight path!
We learn a lot about John through his relationship with Arthur Morgan. And some of these truths were not easy to see or digest. We also learn more about the Marston family, their backgrounds, their relationships, and the impact that Arthur had on the family and their future. Not only is the prequel setting a great way to establish character and backgrounds, but it's also a great way to expand the scope of the series' thematic webs. Arthur's interactions with the Marston family deepen and strengthen the overall umbrella of Red Dead Redemption's themes, ideas, and statements.
These are 25 wild revelations about Arthur and John's relationship.
25 They Were Raised As Brothers
Maybe Red Dead Redemption 3 will cover the glory days of the van der Linde gang, because there's a lot of meat still left on this bone. For instance, the childhoods and upbringings of John and Arthur. When John was just 12 years old, he was caught stealing and was sentenced to hang, but Dutch intervened and ushered him into his gang. Similarly, Arthur was picked up by Dutch at a young age, and the two teenagers were raised as brothers under his arrogant and unlawful wing.
24 Arthur Felt Betrayed After John Left The Group
Arthur is quite the family man. Not long after having Jack, John left the van der Linde in a moment of selfishness and self-reflection. Not much is known about his time away from the family, but one thing is for sure - Arthur was not happy about it. It's pretty clear that Arthur was quite hurt by John's selfish action, as he brings it up about five thousand times in the early part of the game. The family rides and dies together, and John completely abandoned that ideology.
23 There Was A Huge Rift Between The Two
John's time away from the gang resulted in a major rift between the two brothers. For much of the early game, Arthur is extremely hostile towards John. He implies that John shouldn't have been welcomed back, he thinks that Dutch is way too kind on him, and he constantly insults John for his selfish behavior and seeming stupidity. You can tell that the two were quite close before John's departure, but that left a major rift that took a long time (and a lot of violence) to mend.
22 Constant Insults
As we mentioned, John was the brunt of quite a few insults. Throughout the game, you are able to antagonize John, and the results are just as funny as they are shockingly ruthless. Arthur teases John with the prospect of an impending wolf attack, calls him a spineless pansy, and makes fun of his inability to swim. We could go on, but we'd be here all day. We don't know if these insults are in a loving, brotherly way, or genuine, spiteful insults. We're going with the latter.
21 Arthur Rescued John From Certain Doom
It wasn't long before we found out how John got his signature scars. After fleeing north following the Blackwater heist, John and Micah go out to scout for supplies and shelter. However, John gets lost like a doofus and is attacked by wolves. The wolves take out John's horse, scratch his face, and leave him to perish. Luckily, Abigail's Spidey sense starts tingling, and she sends Arthur and Javier to rescue him. Of course, Arthur and Abigail weren't too happy about the whole ordeal.
20 Arthur Thinks John Is Stupid
Well, maybe not STUPID, but certainly foolish and empty-headed. For example, John gets captured by Leviticus Cornwall, forcing Arthur to once again save his butt from danger. To make matters worse, the subsequent shootout forces the entire gang out of Valentine. But John's biggest blunder was selling the prized Braithwaite horses for a meager $700 when he could have gotten $5,000. Arthur turns to John with disappointment in his eyes and says the words we've all been feeling - "You're a fool, Marston."
19 Arthur Was Like A Father To Jack
While many members of the gang were close to Jack, it was Arthur who essentially took him under his wing while John was busy pouting. For example, he takes Jack fishing, talks to him with great affection, and gives him a few life lessons. Jack also leaves Arthur candy after Arthur finds a book. Arthur also scolds John for his neglect, and he shows just as much worry after Jack is taken and given to Angelo Bronte. At times, Arthur was more a father to Jack than John.
18 It Was Jack That Brought Them Closer Together
By the time the gang reaches Clemens Point, Arthur and John's relationship is a little better. While Arthur shows more respect for John, he still talks down to him and calls him an idiot. That is, until Jack is taken by the Braithwaites and given to Angelo Bronte. Arthur suddenly finds himself much more sympathetic towards John, and he tries to comfort him amidst the stressful situation. Once Jack is safely returned, Arthur praises John for his handling of the situation and starts treating him with more respect and admiration.
17 Arthur Rescued John From Prison
Once the Saint Denis robbery goes sideways, the gang is literally broken apart and John is taken to Sisika Penitentiary to be imprisoned and hung. And while Dutch shows surprising patience and restraint in getting John out (he most likely didn't even want him out,) Arthur takes action and rescues him from prison. He and Sadie scout the prison using a hot air balloon and proceed to storm the gates, guns blazing. It is this moment that finally reinforces their bond, and the two ally against Dutch and his increasing tyranny.
16 Arthur Convinced John To Run
Perhaps most important of all, Arthur convinced John to run. While John also saw Dutch's increased immorality and corruption, it was Arthur who finally convinced him to take his family and leave the gang behind. This conversation comes while the two are planting dynamite on Bacchus Bridge, knowing full well that this is the last time the gang works together. As Arthur tells John, "This is over." Maybe John was always a devoted family man - he just needed a little push to break away from the alluring hold of the gang.
15 Arthur And Sadie Rescued Abigail From The Pinkertons
John definitely owes a lot to Arthur, doesn't he? In the climactic and titular mission, Red Dead Redemption, Abigail is taken hostage by the Pinkertons. And, seeing as how John was indisposed after being shot, it was once again up to Arthur and Sadie to save the day. They make their way to Van Horn, shoot their way through the town, and eventually rescue Abigail from Agent Milton. It once again proves Arthur's loyalty to the Marstons and his intense desire in seeing them safe, happy, and free of Dutch's corruption.
14 Arthur Sent Abigail To Safety
Following their harrowing departure from Van Horn, Abigail and Arthur share an emotional goodbye before Arthur leaves to confront the traitorous Micah. It's one of the most touching scenes in the entire game, the beautiful culmination of hours' worth of character development, violence, dramatic rescues, and heroic redemption. Without Arthur and Sadie's helpful intervention, it's possible that John would have never seen his wife again. With this action, Arthur was fully redeemed. There's a reason the mission is titled Red Dead Redemption...
13 Arthur And John Sided Against Dutch
In Red Dead Redemption, we often heard of John's tumultuous relationship with Dutch and the surviving members of the van der Linde gang. Seeing the physical manifestation of this tumult, in the form of a dramatic standoff, was both inspiring and tragic. During Arthur's confrontation with Micah, John makes a surprising appearance and reveals that Dutch left him for the grave. The resulting argument leads to Grimshaw's demise and a tense standoff between Arthur and John and Dutch, Bill, and Javier. In this moment, the gang was officially shattered.
12 Arthur Gave John His Hat
In a beautiful show of respect and brotherly love, Arthur gave John his cowboy hat. No matter what ending you choose (go for the money or help John escape,) Arthur will give John his hat before saying goodbye and departing. And to make the gesture even more dramatic, you (as John) can wear Arthur's hat during the epilogue. It's clear that Arthur meant a lot to John, and John does everything he can to honor the man who saved him and his family.
11 John Acknowledged Arthur As His Brother
Despite their sometimes-turbulent relationship, John and Arthur were brothers. And despite an entire game's worth of abuse at the hands of Arthur, John considers him as such. After Arthur says goodbye to John and tells him to run, John says, "You're my brother," to which Arthur proudly states, "I know, I know." Those aren't just the words of two close male friends - John considers Arthur his actual brother. Those words are a culmination of decades' worth of love, mutual respect, and personal growth. They were brothers to the end.
10 Arthur Allowed John To Escape
Arthur didn't just save Abigail - he saved John as well. You know, metaphorically AND physically. In the "save John" ending (and likely the canonical ending,) Arthur and John say goodbye before Arthur does battle with the tailing Pinkerton agents. As John makes his escape, Arthur stands atop the mountain and shoots at the agents until he is tackled (from behind, like a real pansy) by Micah. It was Arthur's final, heroic last stand, and it allowed his brother to escape into a potential life of happiness and safety. Of course, things aren't that easy...
9 John Uses Arthur's Journal
As we learn in the epilogue, Arthur gifted John his journal, which John continues to use. And as we can see, John isn't quite as... poetic as Arthur. His writing is simpler, his handwriting is messier, and his drawings are of a much-poorer quality. But that doesn't really matter. What matters is that John honors Arthur's life and legacy by using his gift and literally holding onto his words and experiences. A little piece of Arthur lives with John, and it allows John to vividly remember the life of his brother.
8 John Got His Revenge On Cleet
Cleet is an acquaintance of Micah's who helps the gang during the climactic train robbery. He can also be seen during the standoff siding with Dutch and Micah against Arthur and John. However, Cleet and Micah later have a falling out over Micah's tendencies, and Cleet fled to Strawberry where he encountered an understandably-frustrated John, Charles, and Sadie. John can then dispose of Cleet and have his revenge. And if you decide to spare him, Sadie does away with him, anyway. So, really, there's no winning for the man.
7 John Visits Arthur's Grave
It's nice to know that John still sees his brother on occasion. Arthur's grave can be seen east of Bacchus Station, on a mountainous ridge above the Mysterious Hill Home. Fittingly, the grave overlooks the location where Arthur told John to escape the gang and make a new life for himself and his family. Upon 100% completion, John can be seen visiting Arthur's grave and completing his journal. Of course, you can visit the grave any time you want and pay your respects.
6 John Proposed To Abigail With Arthur's Ring
In one of the saddest and most beautiful scenes in the game, John looks at an old picture of a young Arthur and Mary while holding Mary's engagement ring. He then proposes to Abigail with said ring. The gesture becomes even more meaningful when you consider Mary's words to Arthur regarding the ring - "I hope, one day, you will find some people in love who can use this." Arthur found those people, and he provided them with a few joyful and prosperous years together.
5 John Kept A Picture Of Arthur And Mary
While the ring is obviously meaningful, it's also nice to consider that John keeps a picture of Arthur and Mary. They were a happy couple in their younger years, but life unfortunately got in the way. Arthur continued his life of crime, much to Mary's disapproval, and he suffered the wrath and disappointment of her family. The two eventually split, leaving Arthur brokenhearted. Maybe by giving John the picture he wanted John to remember him as a young, healthy, and happy man, not the sick and weak shell he became.
4 John Honored Arthur's Legacy
In Red Dead Redemption, John isn't shy about voicing his distaste towards the gang and its inhabitants. In fact, there didn't seem to be much he LIKED about his time as an outlaw. However, it's telling that John never mentions Arthur, despite Arthur playing such a major role in his life and survival. Maybe he's honoring Arthur's legacy by not pairing him with the van der Linde gang. John hated the gang; he didn't hate Arthur. And as we've seen, maybe he didn't consider him and Arthur to be a part of the gang. They forged their own paths.
3 "Don't Look Back"
We can see many parallels between Arthur's and John's last stands. For example, both tell their families to not look back - Arthur tells John, "I want you to not look back," while John tells his family to "keep riding and don't look back." They also both stay behind and sacrifice themselves for their families - Arthur for John, and John for Abigail and Jack. Maybe John took notice of Arthur's sacrifice and virtue and decided to grant his family the same sense of protection and redemption.
2 The Only Reason John Is Faithful Is Because Of Arthur
The Marstons are a relatively happy unit throughout Red Dead Redemption. And it's all because of Arthur. The family wasn't nearly as tight in Red Dead Redemption 2 - John had run away after Jack's birth, he wasn't close to Jack, and he and Abigail were constantly fighting. It was only through Arthur's intervention that John realized the errors of his selfish ways and decided to become more faithful and loving towards his family. Arthur helped him realize that there were more important things than robbing and earning money.
1 Arthur Was Indirectly Responsible For John's Demise
What makes the story of Red Dead Redemption even more tragic is the realization that Arthur indirectly caused John's eventual demise. John personally hunts down Micah out of revenge for Arthur, despite the pleas of Abigail. However, Abigail was right to plead. John ends up eliminating Micah, which in turns leads the Pinkerton agents to John's doorstep. This results in the events of Red Dead Redemption and John's eventual demise. It just goes to show that revenge is never the answer, and it only leads to a never-ending cycle of violence and misery.