“Good People, The Best”: The Importance of Sadie and Abigail in Red Dead Redemption 2
The moment I fell in love with Red Dead Redemption 2 was the first moment it became clear that Sadie was going to take a bigger role in the story. I found it hard to get on board initially; as a male-centric game about people that seemed perfectly okay with their violent, outlaw lives, I wasn’t sure what it had to offer me. However, as the women became more and more prominent, I became more eager to play. Looking back over the whole game, those women—Sadie Adler and Abigail Roberts in particular—are hugely important to the story in what they represent to the protagonist Arthur, as characters in their own right, and as representations of women in fiction.
Red Dead Redemption 2 is set during the turn of the 20th century, a world in the midst of huge industrial and social change. This doesn’t just make an interesting setting, but is the whole point of the story. Being an outlaw is becoming harder and harder as society is becoming more civilised—much to the disdain of the Van der Linde gang, who have varied reactions to the changing times. The gang leader, Dutch Van der Linde, veers off into a narcissistic and desperate descent into violence, whereas protagonist Arthur Morgan comes to accept that perhaps change isn’t always a bad thing. There are lots of factors that play into Arthur’s character development, but the role of the women in the game can’t be diminished.
The moment where we start paying attention to Sadie is during an argument she has with Pearson, the gang’s cook, and it’s also the first inkling we get that Arthur might not be the scary, horrible, outlaw he’s adamant he is. After threatening to skin Pearson alive, Sadie explains to Arthur that she’s not content with peeling vegetables all day. Arthur mocks her initially for “wanting to ride with the men,” but he then lets her do precisely that, and while she proves to be a bit trigger happy, she also shows that she can take care of herself—and that’s good enough for Arthur.
As their relationship develops, Sadie becomes an important figure in the gang. Red Dead Redemption 2 is a game just as much about family as much as anything else, and both Sadie and Arthur are dealing with the loss or breakdown of theirs. Sadie is a recent widow, and it becomes clear quickly that Arthur’s family, the gang, isn’t going to last much longer—even before his TB diagnosis. With the time that he has left, Arthur sets out to save the family that can be saved; John, Abigail, and their son Jack. As he becomes sicker, Arthur enlists Sadie’s help with this. “You and me, Sadie, we’re more ghosts than people,” he says to her. It’s the sad recognition that the people they were at the start of the game are gone; Sadie’s gone down a violent, angry path of revenge, and Arthur has changed a lot while slowly dying. However, they both see it as their duty to do what they can so these other characters have a chance at what has been lost and what will never be had.
Sadie is also important due to what she represents. She is an inevitable product of the world of outlaw gangs and their violence. She shouldn’t be part of the gang at all; she should be at home, happy and with the husband she loved. Instead, she’s sent down a different path. As Arthur gets to know her, not only does he accept that she is a perfectly capable human being, but sees her as a reminder of what happens when innocent people get caught up in his world. She is also somewhat of a mirror to Arthur; as she becomes increasingly violent and hellbent on avenging her husband throughout the main story, Arthur sees his own actions and past reflected back at him.
If Sadie is a mirror to Arthur, Abigail represents the past Sadie lost and the future Arthur will never have. If Arthur sees Sadie as a product of his violent world, Abigail is the hope that it can be escaped. Abigail is important because she and her family let Arthur believe in a life he never allowed himself to have. He comes to realise the importance of their love for each other and, most prominently, Abigail’s love for John and Jack, which holds them together. They become a symbol for him, something he can do right with the time he has left.
Abigail is also interesting in her own right, not just because of what she represents to other people. She’s a mother, a wife, and a fiercely proud person. She doesn’t let people walk all over her, and she’s not blindly loyal to the point of stupidity—but she does love hard. However, there’s an important difference between her and Sadie, in that she’s not really involved in much of the action. There is a good in-game reason for this; running around with guns isn’t really in her skillset, and besides, it’s not as though she’s going to leave her son on his own to run around killing people with her husband. Quite simply, she’s a much more sensible person. However, Abigail and Sadie should both be examined critically as creations of our own world as well; the fact is, we’re just not comfortable with turning mothers into action heroes.
We’re okay with Sadie shooting, killing, and robbing trains because she is separated from anything traditionally feminine. She’s no longer a wife, was never a mother, and quickly swaps her skirt for trousers. She falls into the “not like other girls” trope, where she doesn’t act like the other women and so it’s easier for us to see her in the same roles as the men. Abigail, on the other hand, doesn’t get the chance to shine in the same way despite having as good a reason as Sadie—her son gets kidnapped at one point, and if there’s one thing I know from video games, it’s that parents will go to the end of the earth to protect their children. Except that’s not quite the case, because as much as we love a game about a dad that revolves around his fatherhood, we have never been comfortable with mothers fulfilling the same role. Red Dead Redemption 2 had a great chance to turn this on its head with Abigail, and it’s a shame they didn’t.
Nonetheless, Abigail and Sadie are both characters I love deeply, and there are so many points in the game that hinge on their actions. Sadie saves the gang on more than one occasion, she helps rescue John, and she gets Abigail and Jack away safely at the end of the game; even Abigail gets a great “hero moment” where she saves Arthur’s and Sadie’s lives.
In a game that’s heavily focused on men, toxic masculinity, and father-son relationships, it is too easy to overlook the role of the women, but without Sadie and Abigail, much of Arthur’s story would lose meaning. Not only do they symbolise different parts of Arthur’s own life, but they also embody the hope of something better than the life he managed to lead. By the end of the game (assuming you go down the high honor route), Arthur is trying to seek a little redemption while he still can. He finds it thanks to Sadie and Abigail.
The last time we see Arthur, Sadie, and Abigail together is when they say goodbye. In these last few moments, Arthur has to break the news to Abigail that her husband might be dead or captured, but assures her that he loved them. He puts Abigail on a horse with Sadie, despite her protests about him leaving them. By this point, Arthur knows he doesn’t have long left, but he has done what he set out to do and he trusts Sadie to keep them safe.
“You’re good women… good people, the best,” he tells them. And he’s right.