Cover for Red Dead Redemption: Undead Nightmare
Image via Rockstar Games

Red Dead Theory Completely Changes John Marston’s Story

A Red Dead Redemption: Undead Nightmare theory may have changed John Marston in a big way.

Rockstar Games’ western hit Red Dead Redemption is a story we still hold in high esteem today, and that’s largely due to John Marston’s compelling and tragic story. So far, the only extra content fans got with the character was a fun DLC story called Undead Nightmare that, according to one theory, may have changed John Marston’s story forever.

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What is Red Dead Redemption: Undead Nightmare About?

Zombie approaching group in Red Dead Redemption: Undead Nightmare
Screenshot by Gameskinny

At this point, it’s no secret that John Marston, at the end of Red Dead Redemption, was tragically gunned down at the end of his journey of redemption and buried. As a result, it left us slightly perplexed at how a video game with a definitive ending could have a follow-up story, let alone one about zombies.

Undead Nightmare takes place before the conclusion of the main game, after John goes home, and after Nastas’ death. Following his return to his family, it’s revealed that the dead have taken over the frontier, and many characters like Uncle, Herbert Moon, and even Nastas return as part of the zombie horde.

The DLC is standard fare for games of this era, leaving us, as John, to clean up the mess with our trusty weapons and try to uncover the mystery of the zombie outbreak along the way. However, in the end, it’s revealed in an epilogue that John is reanimated as one of the undead, but because he was buried with holy water, he was revived with a man’s soul, and we can now control a zombie John that is meant to clean up the rest of the prairie so his soul could finally rest in piece.

With that in mind, one Reddit theory believes Undead Nightmare’s outrageous story isn’t only canon but places John in a near eternal purgatory.

How Does the Purgatory Theory Change John Marston’s Story?

Strange man in Red Dead Redemption
Screenshot by Gameskinny

Red Dead Redemption’s title is more than a clever use of words as it’s meant to explore one man’s quest to redeem himself from his criminal past through the same means that damned his soul in his eyes. Violence may not be the answer, but in the West, it’s a frequently used language that can help as much as it harms and allows you to meet unique characters like the Strange Man, who, according to the theory, is a key figure.

Not much is known of the Strange Man, but according to the theory, he operates as a deity of sorts, claiming he’s an “accountant,” implying he’s taking stock of John’s sins. As a being sent to offer final judgment on John on his quest for redemption, this is more obvious in the “I Know You” side mission, where the Strange Man recounts all of John’s past sins and, at one point, teases his eventual death.

According to the theory, John’s death came before he had fully sought redemption, and being that he was on the path of righteousness but never finished it, he wasn’t allowed to go to Heaven or Hell, per the Strange Man. Now, in a state of purgatory, John must live out the people he cared for, losing their humanity and becoming zombies, symbolic of how he lost his own humanity by taking lives as a criminal.

The purgatory is meant to be a subliminal examination for John and force him to see the people he cared about lose themselves and be a dark reflection of himself. As a result, his return from the dead in the epilogue, as a zombie with a man’s soul, represents a supernatural third chance to right his wrongs, finish his quest, and rest in peace.

Does the Undead Nightmare Theory Hold Up?

John Marston zombie in Red Dead Redemption: Undead Nightmare
Screenshot by Gameskinny

As a fan of theories, I’ve always loved ones that tie in the most outlandish ideas and, even if not true, still enhance the main story. In the case of John being in a zombie purgatory, this same feeling comes up while trying to see how it works. For example, when exploring how John’s purgatory wouldn’t work, it could be explained that those turned into zombies may have appeared or died under different circumstances, like Uncle’s death and lack of a headstone on the hill.

With that in mind, however, Undead Nightmare, if viewed through the eyes of a purgatory DLC, doesn’t have to make sense, as this is John’s spirit forced into a seemingly perfect setting that’s turned upside down. Therefore, it doesn’t matter if Uncle is alive or not because it’s about the shock of seeing him as a zombie and the thought of almost everyone John cared about as a soulless husk. Therefore, the only thing that would make sense is the epilogue as John, now decayed but driven by his mission, serves as him waking up from a literal undead nightmare to finish his tasks. While Undead Nightmare is strictly not canon to the story, this theory is still a fun way to bridge the gap and create a truly unique plot thread.

Want to know more about Red Dead Redemption? Check out GameSkinny’s Red Dead Redemption hub and follow along with some other guides.


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Author
Nicholas Brooks
Nick is a Freelance Writer at Gameskinny and brings with him over a decade of writing and editing experience from sites like CBR and Gameskinny. He also runs a small podcast called Popsubclub, where he interviews individuals in the entertainment industry as well as talks with peers. Nick's love of video games is only a small part of his passions as he's also an avid fan of movies, comics, music and theme parks. Make sure to follow his Instagram (@Comicsubclub) for more.