This article contains story spoilers for Red Dead Redemption 2 that include details of the game's ending and the fates of some of its characters. If you have not played the game but intend to, consider coming back to this feature at a later date.
Part way through Chapter 2 of Red Dead Redemption 2, Ms. Grimshaw, the woman who runs the gang’s camp, tells Arthur that a letter from Mary Linton arrived for him. She set the letter on the table by his bed. It’s a seemingly insignificant moment in the game, but the reality is that when Arthur picks up and reads that letter, events are set in motion that will destroy the van der Linde gang and ultimately lead to the death of Arthur Morgan.
Having completed Red Dead Redemption 2 several times, I knew exactly what would happen when Arthur read that letter. He would head off to collect a debt from Thomas Downes, and in the process become infected with tuberculosis. Anyone who has beaten the game knows this, and that knowledge leads to an uneasy feeling in the back of your mind throughout the entirety of Arthur’s journey. No matter how good or bad things get, every step taken after Arthur reads that letter is a step towards death for Arthur, many of his friends, and his gang.
I let that letter sit on that table for several real days while I explored. All the while an idea was developing. What if Arthur Morgan never went to see Thomas Downes? What if Arthur packed a bag and hit the trail and never looked back? What would happen to Dutch and the gang? Most importantly, could I create a situation within Red Dead Redemption 2 where I could continue to play the game as Arthur, healthy and happy, and make it somewhat believable in my own mind?
While I pondered this thought, two things happened at camp that convinced me that Arthur leaving the van der Linde gang could be in everyone’s best interest. The first was a random encounter where Dutch, unprovoked, told Arthur, “I expect you’ll betray me in the end, Arthur. You’re the type.” Arthur’s mentor and father figure, long before he went completely insane, expected betrayal. It occurred to me on the spot that Arthur’s loyalty should belong to the gang, not Dutch.
What really convinced me that Arthur leaving the gang could be for the best, though, was a conversation between Hosea and Lenny. During that conversation Lenny is grappling with the fear that the gang had lost its way, and instead of reassuring him, Hosea outright tells Lenny that they’re doomed. That was a haunting moment for me, especially given that both Lenny and Hosea are gunned down in Saint Denis within minutes of each other while attempting to carry out an ill-advised robbery for Dutch, who at the time is becoming completely unhinged. It was then that I made up my mind; I was going to save Arthur Morgan’s life, and thus many “innocent” members of the van der Linde gang.
Simply riding away from the camp and ignoring story missions wasn’t going to cut it. I was going to have to fully invest in why Arthur would feel justified in leaving the gang and figure out what his new life would look like. Where would he live? What would he do to fill the days? What were his hobbies now that he wasn’t robbing and murdering for Dutch? Was he still an outlaw, or was this version of Arthur truly leaving a life of crime behind? I had a lot of work to do.
I began with a few core ideas that Arthur would follow in the lead up to this separation, and while living his life after it.
- Arthur would never abandon the gang if he didn’t feel it was for the greater good
- He is not a coward and would never hide from the gang or his decision
- Arthur would do everything in his power to ensure the members of the gang were taken care of
With these core ideas in mind, I set out to prepare Arthur for his new life. This mostly involved upgrading the camp through the ledger, material donations to Pearson, and scouting the land for a new home. My two conditions for a new home were that it had to have a bed Arthur could sleep in and I couldn’t take it from current occupants. After hours of exploration and checking out shacks I knew of around the world, I settled on the Stilt Shack in Big Valley. A tiny shack raised off the ground and only accessible by ladder. It was perfectly tucked away a short distance from Hanging Dog Ranch, home of the O’Driscolls. The location offered me great hunting grounds to the south around Owanjila and southeast along Little Creek River. It wasn’t too far to Valentine or Strawberry, both places I planned to have Arthur visit often.
Finding the home was the stability my idea needed to really take off. With so much great hunting near my new shack, Arthur would make his living hunting, fishing, and selling the pelts and meat to the Trapper, and the Butchers in Valentine and Strawberry. Visits to town would involve stopping at shops for supplies, as well as dinner and poker at Smithfield’s Saloon in the evening. If Arthur stayed out too late or had one too many wobbly pops, he could simply crash at the hotel in each town, then head back to Big Valley, or wherever, the next day.
This was the life I wanted for Arthur Morgan. A life of solitude that suited his sad demeanor. A life free of violence, save for the occasional bar fight that was inevitable, or defending himself from those who would mean him harm. It was time to set the wheels in motion.
Tying Loose Ends
Lost in all this roleplaying was the reality that playing Red Dead Redemption 2 for dozens of hours without moving the story forward is quite difficult. There are numerous systems locked behind progression, such as fishing, buying fishing bait, Dead Eye progression, good weapons, and even the Survival challenges.
The fishing pole problem was easy. I simply went to Flat Iron Lake and hogtied a fisherman, stole his fishing pole, and left. Don’t worry, I didn’t rob him beyond the fishing pole, and I left him alive and well. The secondary issue to this was that the only bait I could get my hands on was corn, cheese, and bread, none of which catch great fish with any consistency. Better lures and bait are locked behind a mission that Arthur can only unlock by reading Mary’s letter. So, Arthur would be more hunter than fisherman, unless he was keen on Perch all the time.
Weapons weren’t really an issue. You can effectively hunt and maintain perfect quality pelts with a Bow and various arrows, Varmint Rifle, Springfield Rifle, Shotgun, and Repeater. I had all those, and since my guns were now for hunting rather than shootouts, they would work just fine. The same went for the lack of Dead Eye progression. Arthur can’t manually tag multiple targets until a few missions after he reads that letter, but you don’t need Dead Eye if you’re a skilled hunter.
Once I had acquired everything Arthur would need, I went back to the camp and made sure the gang was in good shape. I crafted every upgrade possible through Pearson and the Ledger, topped off the medical supplies, ammunition, and food. Finally, I donated $6,000 to the camp, leaving Arthur exactly $25. To put those numbers into perspective, if it was 2022 when I donated that money it would be worth $207,000.
A New Life
I woke up early the morning I left and had coffee with Abigail and Ms. Grimshaw, as I did every morning I woke up at camp. I left soon after, heading toward Valentine. I wasn’t two minutes from camp when I was ambushed by O’Driscolls, which felt like a bad omen for this adventure. I dispatched them easily enough, then made my way to Big Valley. I spent most of my first day away from the van der Linde gang hunting in the open fields of Big Valley and finally made my way to the Stilt Shack I’d picked out for Arthur to live in. The shack, of course, contained none of the benefits of camp, nor did Arthur have anyone to play poker with. I simply went to bed and slept the 11 hours until morning.
My second day of this new life had me hunting back through Big Valley to Wallace Station, then up to Cattail Pond to hunt the Legendary Big Horn Ram. I then rode the tracks back to the Trapper near Riggs Station to turn it in. It was getting dark, so I rode to the north shores of Flat Iron Lake and made camp.
Day three was another long one. It started by taking a nice lady whose horse had died to Emerald Ranch where I took the opportunity to sell a few questionable items to the Fence. Arthur may not have been a gunslinging outlaw any more, but he still had a few shady ways about him. This put my total amount of money up to about $175. I made my way back west to hit up Valentine. I needed a haircut, beard trim, hot meal, and a bath. Of course, I hunted along the way and made a few more bucks by selling some things to the butcher in town. I quickly reduced my savings to about $125 by buying some horse provisions and hitting up the general store.
A Bleak Outlook
While I did enjoy walking away from the van der Linde gang and playing as a healthy Arthur, I found myself pondering what his next few days, weeks, and months would look like. Unfortunately, it appeared they would look a lot like the first three days. Riding around hunting some animals, selling some pelts, and… not much else. I’ve spent weeks away from the gang as Arthur in the past, but there was a comfort in knowing that I could just go home. If at any point I wanted to have coffee with Ms. Grimshaw and Abigail, I could go back to camp. At night, I could sit around the fire and just enjoy the company of Charles and Lenny. Sitting in this hotel room in Valentine, alone and listening to the cries of a man with severe constipation, reality sunk in. By going to great lengths to preserve Arthur’s life, I denied him the opportunity to truly live. And, while I do think it’s feasible that Arthur would quit the gang if he thought it was for the greater good, I also wondered if Arthur leaving would really set Dutch and company on a path to recovery, or would it just drive one more nail into the coffin?
I knew a time would come where I got bored of just wandering the world aimlessly, but I didn’t think it would be so soon. I was doing the same things I always did with hunting and exploring, but my path lacked purpose. Before, I hunted to provide for the camp. Now, I hunted for money. But why did I need money? I mean, I needed a little here and there, but there was no point to hunting day in and day out.
It’s silly to say this, but I felt like a kid who created this grand plan to run away from home, and never made it out of the driveway. I set out to save Arthur Morgan, but in the process, I ripped away his reason to live. The next morning, I headed back to camp and read that letter from Mary, then headed out to kick Tomas Downes’ ass.