Red Dead Redemption 2 is launching eight and a half years after Red Dead Redemption, but it’s a prequel: It is set in 1899, more than a decade before the events of the previous game. To be clear, the two games don’t just take place in the same universe — there’s direct continuity between them, with Red Dead Redemption 2 featuring younger versions of multiple characters from Red Dead Redemption. After all, the Van der Linde Gang plays a central role in both games.
Whether you played the first game and are just looking for a refresher, or you never got around to it and want to do some homework before you jump into the follow-up, we’ve got you covered. Here’s a primer on everyone — as far as we currently know — who appears in Red Dead Redemption and Red Dead Redemption 2.
Red Dead Redemption: The story so far
Let’s begin with a quick story synopsis to explain the crossover. Red Dead Redemption is set primarily in 1911. As civilization takes hold in every nook and cranny across America, the government looks to tame the Wild West once and for all. Federal agents from the Bureau of Investigation are looking to round up what’s left of the Van der Linde Gang, a group of outlaws that once terrorized large swaths of the West and South. So they blackmail one reformed ex-member, John Marston, into hunting down three of his former comrades — Bill Williamson, Javier Escuella and Dutch van der Linde himself — by kidnapping his wife, Abigail Marston, and their son, Jack.
Twelve years earlier, Red Dead Redemption 2 follows the exploits of the Van der Linde Gang in its heyday — or perhaps its last hurrah. Dutch, Bill, Javier and John are all key members of the crew at this point, but they’re not the only characters who show up in both games.
[Ed. note: All screenshots in this article are from Red Dead Redemption 2.]
Javier Escuella hails from Nuevo Paraíso, a (fictional) province of Mexico that lies on the border with the U.S. He’s hanging out there in Red Dead Redemption, working as a hitman for the Mexican army in the country’s ongoing civil war. It’s a stark contrast from his younger days: He was a Mexican revolutionary in a past life, before heading to America and joining the Van der Linde Gang.
During the final confrontation between Escuella and John Marston — when the player, as Marston, must choose whether to capture or kill Escuella — the dialogue suggests that the two men had formed a strong kinship when they ran with the gang.
“You’re not going to shoot your own brother, are you?” Escuella says. “We was family.”
“Yeah, we were,” Marston replies. But he later points out that Escuella and Dutch left him to die after a job that went wrong. In the end, Escuella comes off as a coward who will say or do anything to try to save his own skin.
Dutch van der Linde
The charismatic leader of the Van der Linde Gang, notorious outlaw Dutch van der Linde spends his entire life trying to live free from the shackles of civilization. By the time Marston encounters him in Red Dead Redemption, he is leading a new group called Dutch’s Gang, a veritable army of Native American followers who share his hatred of the American government.
Dutch, an idealistic, well-read man, wants to make the West wild again. He tried to set up the Van der Linde Gang as a nomadic commune full of misfits, rejects and anyone else who couldn’t find a place in civil society — this is the group as it appears in Red Dead Redemption 2. But it gradually becomes clear that his fight against the U.S. government and military is a futile one, and Marston says in Red Dead Redemption that the disillusionment resulting from this realization eventually drove Dutch to the brink of insanity.
“We can’t always fight nature, John,” Dutch says. “We can’t fight change. We can’t fight gravity. We can’t fight nothing.” Having accepted that his “savage utopia” cannot exist, Dutch tells Marston, “Our time is passed,” and takes his own life by walking off a cliff in the mountains.
Abigail and Jack Marston
After Dutch’s death, the Bureau of Investigation agents finally free Abigail Marston (née Roberts) and her son, Jack, allowing them to head to the family ranch at Beecher’s Hope, where John Marston meets them and looks to settle down. Abigail is a no-nonsense woman who doesn’t take guff from anybody, which is reasonable, considering her tough life: She was an orphan that ended up hanging around with the Van der Linde gang as a prostitute, and then had to survive with Jack in captivity.
Jack hasn’t had it easy, either — he spent his early childhood with the gang, which is not a great environment for a person to grow up in. (He is about four years old at the beginning of Red Dead Redemption 2.) By the end of Red Dead Redemption, in 1914, he is an orphan. The game concludes with him tracking down and killing Edgar Ross to avenge his parents.
Perhaps the best word to describe John Marston would be “pitiable.” In Red Dead Redemption, he has a few deep scars across his face — likely sustained during the botched heist that is the inciting event for Red Dead Redemption 2 — and he always seems to be the unlucky one when it comes to jobs that go awry. (His fellow gang members leave him for dead when he gets shot during a failed robbery in 1906, which is what leads him to ditch the outlaw life in the first place.)
He lives peacefully as a reformed man over the next five years, a period during which his unnamed daughter dies. Then, in 1911, Bureau of Investigation agents abduct his wife and son, setting off a chain of events that will lead to his demise before the age of 40.
Although Marston spent his prime years as an outlaw in the Van der Linde Gang, he is an honorable man with a keen sense of morality.
The lead agent on the Bureau of Investigation’s effort to put an end to the Van der Linde Gang’s reign of terror, Edgar Ross isn’t just the primary antagonist of Red Dead Redemption — he’s the antithesis of John Marston’s character. Ross may be a federal law enforcement agent, but he is a dishonorable man with no scruples.
He’s happy to take advantage of the lawlessness of the Wild West in using extortion to turn Marston into a bounty hunter. Then, well after Marston has satisfied the terms of their arrangement, Ross leads a military assault on the Marston family ranch to take out the lone surviving member of the Van der Linde Gang.
An alcoholic and layabout, Uncle is nonetheless loyal in times of need. When federal agents kidnap Abigail and Jack, John puts Uncle in charge of the family ranch before heading off on his mission. The Marstons return to find the ranch in disrepair; after all, it’s hard to expect any elderly man, even a hard-working one, to be the steward of a ranch on their own. But when the U.S. Army and U.S. Marshals storm Beecher’s Hope, Uncle does his damndest to defend the place before being killed in the battle.
Somewhat like his fellow gangster Javier Escuella, Bill Williamson talks a big game but is ultimately a coward. At the start of Red Dead Redemption, Williamson is holed up with his own crew in a fort; in fact, he always sends his minions to deal with John Marston, rather than face his former comrade himself. In addition to being yellow, he’s a nasty son of a bitch.w
When Marston confronts Williamson at the fort, a member of his gang shoots Marston (fatally, they believe). But a local rancher named Bonnie MacFarlane — who describes Williamson as “the worst bandit in the county” — rescues the wounded cowboy and nurses him back to health. When Williamson discovers where Marston has been convalescing, he and his bandits set fire to the innocent woman’s barn. He later flees to Mexico, where he finally meets his end at the hands of Marston and a Mexican rebel leader.
As with any prequel, Red Dead Redemption fans who play Red Dead Redemption 2 will know the fates of these characters. But the promise of the new game is that we’ll be able to see how they got to where they were in Red Dead Redemption. After all, that game featured very few actual in-person interactions between John Marston and the ex-comrades he was hunting down; it’ll be exciting to see what his relationships with them were like in the good ol’ days of the Van der Linde Gang, 12 years prior.
We’ll find out soon enough. Red Dead Redemption 2 launches Oct. 26 on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.