Resident Evil Village is filled with memorable characters. You’ve got the return of Chris Redfield, who is wider than ever. Donna Beneviento is the new face of horror. And of course, Lady Dimitrescu is an instant icon who will be beloved for years to come.
And then there’s Ethan Winters, one of the worst characters ever.
With the first-person reimagining of the series in Resident Evil 7: Biohazard came a new protagonist. Ethan appeared in RE7 as a totally different type of would-be hero compared to previous series protagonists. Rather than being a super cop or some sort of vague government agent, Ethan is just a guy (some kind of engineer). Several years after his wife goes missing, he wanders to a Louisiana plantation to find her. That, coupled with the fact that we never see his face, creates a sort of “everyman” horror story where the player is truly powerless.
His story continues in Resident Evil Village, adding even more depth and lore to the faceless character. After seeing the full arc of his character laid out, one thing is now abundantly clear: Ethan Winters is the worst.
We’re going into heavy spoiler territory here, so proceed at your own risk.
While the Resident Evil series has had its fair share of dummies in the past, Ethan Winters truly takes things to another level. We see that at the very beginning of the game when he watches his wife Mia get turned into Swiss cheese by gunfire. His reaction is, bafflingly, little more than a “whoopsies!” (It’s more like “Wha—!?” and then “Mia...” followed by a “What the hell!?” to Chris — as if Chris just accidentally stepped on his toes or something.)
Contrast that with a scene one hour later where Ethan watches a person he literally just met die in a fire, and he has a dramatic breakdown over it. That scene is capped off by Ethan punching a wall with his hand that has just been chomped in half by a werewolf. There’s a lot to unpack here that I am not medically qualified for.
It is truly impossible to understand anything Ethan does throughout Resident Evil Village. There’s no consistency or logic to any of his actions. Take a moment later in the game where he stealthily grabs a piece of Rose while the monstrous Moreau isn’t looking, only to immediately catch the creature’s attention so he can brag about it. It’s like rolling a critical fail on a Dungeons & Dragons Stealth check.
God, I hate this man.
In some ways, it’s par for the course for Resident Evil. The horror franchise isn’t exactly “smart.” It’s a schlocky, horror B-movie collection that loves to be silly. Stilted characters that don’t quite feel human are part of its DNA. That dates back to the hilarious English dub of the first game, which brought us iconic line deliveries like, “You were almost a Jill sandwich!”
But Ethan Winters is different. Nothing he does makes any sense, to the point where he stops feeling like a human being. Part of that is because he's kind of not human at all. As part of Village’s ending, we learn that Ethan has been dead for three years and is actually living Mold that bears his consciousness.
That actually makes a lot of sense, because Ethan’s personality does indeed resemble that of mold.
It would all be fine if Ethan was just another stock horror protagonist like he was in Resident Evil 7. Instead, Village goes out of its way to paint him as an actual hero. We’re supposed to feel sympathy for him as he tries to rescue his baby and avenge his wife (yet, again, he does not seem to care when she is riddled with bullets).
Instead, he feels like the human equivalent of Itchy from The Simpsons. Everything that happens to him is pure farce. His injuries are cartoonish, turning body horror into a slapstick comedy act. Because even the worst of injuries is easily healed.
This speaks to a wider problem with Resident Evil Village: It doesn’t have any real stakes. Ethan feels like the dumbest, most hapless man in the world, and yet nothing can hurt him. A severed hand be reattached with magic juice. He can outwit a 9.5-foot tall vampire with ease. Why should we be scared of anything when an invincible doofus constantly gets the upper hand? (Pardon the pun.)
Ethan Winters is, in my estimation, the worst video game protagonist of all time. He sucks all of the tension out of Resident Evil Village like a moldy sponge. For the sake of Resident Evil 9, I am praying that the father’s story is truly done.