The untimely death of Red Dead Redemption’s 2’s Arthur Morgan mirrors the real life tragedy of one of most famous gunslingers of the American West.
Rockstar’s modern masterpiece, Red Dead Redemption 2, does not shy a way from tragedy. Historically accurate to an almost painful degree, Red Dead Redemption 2 depicts the the full harshness of the American West. Despite being romanticized by popular fiction, the 19th century’s American West was a brutal place to live, with death ever present. This uncomfortable truth comes across no more clearly than with Arthur Morgan whose tragic fate mirrors that of an iconic outlaw.
[Warning: Spoilers for Red Dead Redemption 2’s story]
Over the course of Read Dead Redemption 2, Arthur does, as the name implies, find redemption, and comes to see the inherent beauty of the world, but his heroic journey costs him his life. Near the beginning of the game, Arthur contracts tuberculosis and slowly dies, becoming more and more sickly as the game progresses. By RDR2‘s end, Arthur is a shell of his formal muscular self, with sunken, red eyes and an emaciated frame. His death is tragic given his young age and kind heart, something he finally embraces before his death. The player aches at the loss of Arthur but nothing can be done, and regardless of player action, Arthur must die at the end of Red Dead Redemption 2, for tuberculosis was a death sentence in the 19th century.
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Around the time that Arthur died (1899) a famous gunslinger also perished from the same deadly disease in real life. In 1887, Doc Holliday succumbed to tuberculosis and died at the age of 36, the same age as Arthur Morgan. Doc Holliday is an icon of the American West and his tragic trajectory probably helped shape Arthur’s character in Red Dead Redemption 2.
Why Doc Holliday Is An Icon in American History
Doc Holliday is most famous for his involvement in the shootout at the O.K. Corral in Tombstone, Arizona. It’s been reported that Doc Holliday was a friend of Wyatt Earp, another icon of the American West, and was deputized by the Tombstone Marshall Virgil Earp, brother of Wyatt Earp. Soon after, Doc Holliday got involved in the famous shootout when he, Wyatt, Virgil, and others tried to arrest members of a gang known as the Cowboys. Following the fight, the remaining Cowboys retaliated, severely wounding Virgil Earp and killing Morgan Earp, Wyatt’s other brother.
In search of justice, Wyatt, a U.S. Marshall, sought the help of Doc Holliday, and together they hunted down the remnants of the Cowboy gang. These events made Doc and Wyatt icons, and they have both been lionized in pop-culture via many stories including 1993’s Tombstone where Val Kilmer portrayed Doc Holliday. While the events of O.K. Corral made Doc Holliday a legend, it did also make him an outlaw. Holliday avoided capture, however, and died only a few years later from his tuberculosis, just like Red Dead Redemption 2’s Arthur Morgan did.
Doc Holliday was not an outlaw in the same vein as Red Dead Redemption II’s Arthur Morgan, however. He did not take part in any crimes outside of Wyatt’s quest for vengeance, and is only believed to have killed a few people. However, Doc Holliday is an icon whose exploits have shaped many fables of the American West, with his untimely death serving as a harsh reminder of the brutal realities of life inherent within the time period. In mimicking Doc Holliday’s grandeur and tragic death, while also finding his own sense of meaning, Arthur Morgan has become an icon in his own right, depicting the potential of personal transcendence in a time of utter despair.
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