This article contains RESIDENT EVIL VILLAGE spoilers.
I walked away from Resident Evil Village with mixed feelings about the whole thing, but the one aspect of the long-awaited sequel I had no mixed feelings about was leading man Ethan Winters and his status as the absolute worst.
While there have been other unlikable Resident Evil protagonists, Resident Evil 7 and Resident Evil Village‘s Ethan Winters is on another level. Unlike other RE heroes that were hindered by a combination of bad voice acting, bad writing, and questionable lore, Ethan Winters’ brings all of those unfortunate elements to the table and adds a couple of “qualities” that puts him cleanly in contention for the “honor” of being not just the worst protagonist in RE history but in all major video games.
Before you call that harsh, consider just a few of the many ways that Ethan Winters is the most insufferable part of two otherwise good games.
Ethan Winters is a Terrible Husband
This is honestly a bit lower on the list of Ethan Winters’ character sins, but it has to be pointed out that Ethan Winters comes across as a pretty bad partner.
First off, there’s a world in which Ethan doesn’t even save Mia in Resident Evil 7 and instead chooses to give the serum to Zoe Baker: a girl he’s known for about a couple of hours. In that same ending, Mia still sacrifices herself for Ethan despite the fact that Ethan didn’t save her. Capcom wisely decided to abandon that ending pretty much entirely, but it’s telling that the writers created a character who could conceivably leave his wife to die when he’s able to easily save her.
Mind you, the version of Ethan we see in Village who did decide to save Mia is only slightly better than the one who abandoned her. The biggest problem here is actually the revelation that Mia is really Mother Miranda and seemingly has been for at least a little while. This use of the body switch trope always makes partners look bad (how do you not notice the supposed love of your life has been replaced?), but it takes a very dark turn in this instance when Mia is shot by Blue Umbrella operatives and Ethan barely reacts to his wife’s brutal murder.
Yes, it turns out it was actually Mother Miranda that was shot, but before Ethan knows that, he is seemingly able to process much of his grief with an “Oh God!” and an exasperated “Why?” After that, Ethan barely even talks about Mia. Sure, his daughter was just kidnapped, but this guy can’t shed a tear or do anything to indicate that he needs more than a minute to process this whole thing?
Even if it was Mother Miranda who scolds Ethan in one of the game’s early cutscenes for not caring enough about their relationship, I’m starting to think she was right. No wonder she has to keep so much wine around the house.
Ethan Winters’ Quips Could Make an ’80s Action Hero Shake Their Head in Shame
I feel like I could spend several articles talking about Ethan’s awful one-liners and quips, but there’s one specific moment I have to talk about that really highlights the extent of this problem.
There’s a scene in the back half of Village that sees Ethan sneak through a mine in search of a flask containing part of his daughter. Against all odds, Ethan is able to retrieve the flask without drawing the attention of the creature guarding it, Moreau. However, Ethan (who, it must be said again, is the absolute worst) cannot resist taunting Moreau instead of just walking away. He then stays a little while longer to make fun of Moreau seemingly because he’s the first of the house leaders who he feels he is able to bully.
Ethan, why are you like this? Why would you possibly alert this thing to your presence when you’ve just been gifted an easy way out, and why would you exploit what appears to be a moment of weakness for this creature just to get a couple of insults and bad jokes in? For that matter, why do you constantly feel the need to chime in with some kind of quip or line that seemingly confirms you’re just good-looking enough to have never been told that you’re not funny?
It’s great that Moreau uses this moment to tell Ethan “You’re stupid! You talk too much,” but the fact that the game’s writers were seemingly aware of this problem makes it all the more baffling that they chose to have their games star this very stupid man who does, in fact, talk way too much in the moments he shouldn’t be talking at all.
Ethan Winters Has Never Been the Everyman He is Supposed to Be
When I first started playing Resident Evil 7, I gave the game the benefit of the doubt regarding some of Ethan Winters’ character and personality flaws. After all, he was supposed to be the player surrogate and something of an everyman who is just as confused by this situation as we are.
However, if Ethan really was ever supposed to be an everyman, he’s a pretty bad one. It’s easy enough to buy into the idea that Ethan is just some poor guy in a bad situation at first, but between his terrible quips, world-class bad decision making, and apparent inability to form a believable human connection with the few actual humans in his life, Ethan is less of an everyman and more of the random dorm roommate you got stuck with in college. The best thing you can say about him is that you’ve both got to find a way to get through this together.
Throughout Resident Evil, we also watch as Ethan alternates between struggling to understand things that we as the player have already figured out and not caring about obviously impressive moments. There are essentially vampires and other nearly mythological creatures in every corner of Resident Evil Village, and Ethan hardly ever conveys even a moment of surprise in response to anything he sees. There’s even a scene towards the end of the game when Ethan falls into an underground area only to find that Chris is already there and has apparently built a homemade tank. Does Ethan ask for an explanation about any of this or express any notable interest in these incredible coincidences/circumstances? No, he does not. It’s like the “cool guys don’t look at explosions” trope, but the explosions are the plot and the cool guy is Ethan Winters.
Seemingly realizing that Ethan wasn’t working as an everyman, Capcom decided to turn him into more of an action hero in Resident Evil Village. Unfortunately for everyone, that only made things worse…
Ethan Winters’ Powers Somehow Make Him an Even More Boring Character
Let’s get right into it: it doesn’t make any sense that Ethan Winters is able to defeat most of the threats he faces in Resident Evil Village, and the game’s attempts at making those moments make sense only make the character worse.
While Village tells us that Chris trained Ethan and Mia to some degree after the events of Resident Evil 7, there’s no amount of training you could possibly receive that would explain why the bullets from a shotgun you found in a shed are able to topple impossible creatures. Granted, that’s more of a game design problem than it is a personal issue with Ethan, but at some point, the fact that Ethan goes from “barely defending himself” to “defeating an entire village of monstrosities” with very little believable or enjoyable explanation between those moments ultimately becomes yet another reason to not like him.
Village later tries to explain Ethan’s regenerative abilities and impossible durability with a variation of the “dead the whole time” storytelling cliche, but that just makes matters worse. While “dead guy” is a pretty apt description of Ethan’s warmth as a human being, Ethan being just south of unkillable doesn’t make him any more interesting: it makes him a s****y Wolverine who hopes his powers will make up for his lack of personality. In reality, it just makes it more upsetting that it’s so hard to get rid of Ethan Winters.
Ethan Winters’ evolution from bewildered average guy to monster slayer could have been interesting. Just look at Gordon Freeman from Half-Life or the character Wesley Wyndam-Pryce from Buffy and Angel. Instead, the more we got to know Ethan, the more we wish we didn’t. It’s rare to have a protagonist that so effectively drags down the considerable quality of everything around him, but that’s just the kind of guy that Ethan is.