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Red Dead Redemption’s follow-up could be a prequel, here’s why

Will we relive John Marston’s outlaw days?

Red Dead Redemption silhouette teaser 2560 Rockstar Games
Samit Sarkar (he/him) is Polygon’s deputy managing editor. He has more than 15 years of experience covering video games, movies, television, and technology.

Rockstar Games set the world ablaze simply by tweeting two blood-drenched images in a 24-hour period. The company appears to be teasing a follow-up to Red Dead Redemption, its beloved open-world Western from 2010, and while Rockstar has yet to confirm even that much, the two teasers alone have kicked off wild speculation across the internet.

At this stage, the true nature of the next Red Dead game — including its title — is anyone’s guess. Will it be a direct sequel, with players picking up the story in the shoes of Jack Marston, the son of Red Dead Redemption protagonist John Marston? Perhaps not. The few shreds of evidence we’ve collected point to the game being a prequel to its predecessor.

Let’s take a closer look.

The silhouetted seven

Yesterday’s Rockstar-logo-on-a-red-canvas image wasn’t very interesting on its own, but today’s artwork provides much more fodder for discussion. Seven armed men — or at least, they appear to be men — are walking over a hill, with a fiery sunset illuminating a mountain ridge behind them.

Here’s a close-up of the silhouetted figures without the red background, so it’s easier to examine them.

a close-up of Red Dead Redemption 2’s second teaser image, with seven armed figures silhouetted against the sky Rockstar Games via Polygon

Well, that sure looks like a mean, wild bunch of outlaws. And the guy in the center looks familiar, doesn’t he? Enhance ...

Red Dead Redemption teaser - John Marston comparison shot
The teaser’s central character superimposed on a screenshot of John Marston from Red Dead Redemption.
Rockstar Games via Polygon

Sure, the silhouette’s cowboy hat has a dented crown instead of a flat one. But notice the prominent holster on his right thigh, and the Winchester rifle that’s held in his hand rather than slung over his back. The John Marston we know from Red Dead Redemption doesn’t have mutton chops on his face, but there’s definitely some hair on his jaw line. And in general, the shadow figure’s build appears to be similar to Marston’s stature.

Now let’s check out the man directly to the right.

Red Dead Redemption teaser - Bill Williamson comparison shot
The fifth figure from the teaser, superimposed on a screenshot of Bill Williamson from Red Dead Redemption.
Rockstar Games via Polygon

There’s not much to go on here — we can’t tell if Bill Williamson is wearing a long coat in this screenshot, although he is holding a rifle. Having said that, one detail appears to be a dead giveaway: Williamson sports a distinctive cowboy hat with the left side of the brim turned up, and the silhouette’s Stetson looks identical.

The other five figures don’t easily map onto characters we know from Red Dead Redemption. But the presence of the group, and the silhouettes’ apparent connections to Marston and Williamson, give us some food for thought.

Red Dead Redemption told the story of a man being forced to reckon with his violent past. Years before the events of the game, Marston was a member of the notorious Dutch’s Gang, a group of criminals that also included Williamson, Javier Escuella and ringleader Dutch van der Linde. Just prior to Red Dead Redemption, U.S. government agents — looking to put an end the outlaw culture of the Wild West — capture Marston’s wife and teenage son in order to compel Marston to do their bidding. Marston thus spends the majority of the game tracking down his former associates, hoping to free his family and put his past behind him once and for all.

Red Dead Redemption silhouette teaser 2560 Rockstar Games

Let’s presume that the aforementioned figures in the teaser image are indeed Marston and Williamson. Extrapolating from there, it’s not too much of a leap to suggest that the seven silhouettes are members of Dutch’s Gang. (One wrinkle to this theory is that Marston’s wife, Abigail, also hung around the gang — she was a prostitute before the two of them got married — and it isn’t obvious that any of the figures is a woman.)

If the teaser image indeed features Dutch’s Gang — which has disbanded by 1911, the year in which Red Dead Redemption takes place — then it stands to reason that the next entry in the franchise will be a prequel.

Imagine playing as Marston while he was even more of an antihero than in Red Dead Redemption: a cold-blooded murderer who terrorized the Old West with his fellow outlaws. Dutch’s Gang was renowned for robbing banks; what if this new Red Dead title were to focus on planning heists à la Rockstar’s most recent game, Grand Theft Auto 5? What if we got glimpses of the good ol’ days of the group, and then watched the brothers in arms slowly drift apart? Red Dead Redemption was set after the American frontier had already closed; what if we could experience that turn-of-the-20th-century turmoil in progress?

Odds and ends

Red Dead Redemption 2 map leak
The leaked world map of the purported prequel to Red Dead Redemption.

We don’t know anything for sure about this new Red Dead title — assuming it even is a new Red Dead title — but this past spring, an image purporting to be the game’s world map showed up on NeoGAF. The leak was corroborated by TechRadar, which cited "a source close to the development of the new Red Dead game" in reporting that the game would take place before Red Dead Redemption.

Evidence solidifying the prequel theory included the fact that part of Red Dead Redemption’s game world appeared on the map. The northeast portion of Red Dead Redemption’s setting — the West Elizabeth territory, which consists of the Tall Trees and Great Plains regions — sits in the southwest corner of the leaked map. TechRadar also noted that the prequel’s map did not feature the railroad that existed in Red Dead Redemption, lending further credence to the idea that the follow-up will take place before that game.

There’s one more curious detail in the leak, and this one is geographical rather than chronological. In the Bayou NWA territory of the map, along the Lannahechee River, sits a city called New Bordeaux. A city of the same name appears in Mafia 3 — a title published by 2K Games, which is part of the same parent company as Rockstar. (You can see a redone version of the map, courtesy of Quarter to Three reader MrTibbs, here.)

In Mafia 3, which takes place in 1968, New Bordeaux is a stand-in for New Orleans. Much of Red Dead Redemption is set in Nuevo Paraíso (aka Mexico), which is located south of the San Luis River. In the real world, of course, the Rio Grande separates Mexico from the state of Texas. So if the new Red Dead title takes players northeast of Red Dead Redemption’s setting, then it makes sense that an approximation of Louisiana — which is located roughly northeast of the Rio Grande — would exist in the game.

Poking holes

Red Dead Redemption sunset screenshot Rockstar San Diego/Rockstar Games

We should note that there are a couple of major caveats to all this theorizing.

Rockstar Games titles tend to introduce different protagonists with new entries in a franchise. For instance, no two Grand Theft Auto titles feature the same playable characters. The only exception to this Rockstar rule is the Max Payne series, where the title character stars in all three games.

[Note: The following contains spoilers for Red Dead Redemption.]

Secondly, people who have finished Red Dead Redemption know that John Marston dies shortly after the climax of the story. During an epilogue set three years after the events of the game, the player picks up the tale as Marston’s 19-year-old son, Jack Marston. Jack tracks down and kills Edgar Ross, the federal agent who betrayed and murdered his father. So it’s certainly possible that the next Red Dead title will simply continue Jack's story.

Again, we’re just extrapolating from the scant few clues we have to go on. Either way, hopefully we won’t have to wait too long for Rockstar to fully reveal the new Red Dead game.