The Let's Play Archive

Spec Ops: The Line

by OatmealRaisin

Part 8: Chapters 14 & 15: The Bridge/Welcome - "Darnok and Walker at Khalifa"

Part 7: Darnok and Walker at Khalifa

Konrad was dead to begin with. But there was a lot of doubt about that. His ability to know what we were doing at any given moment. His sudden appearances every now and then, either in person or shadowing us from billboards and advertisements. Were we paranoid? Or was there more to it than that? I deliberately held off on talking about Walker's relationship with Konrad, because it's such a key part of the game. You could easily argue it's one of the most important themes in the whole thing, because the relationship between the two men indirectly drives the narrative along. Everything that John Konrad is, drives what Martin Walker does, and everything else is just dust in their wake.

The game boils down to the fact that there's actually two John Konrads in the game: the one who found himself broken by Dubai and the one who taunts Walker throughout the game. Technically, there's a third, but we'll get into that later. The first Konrad almost entirely disappears from the game after the first chapter. He leaves the message that makes it out of the storm wall and leaves the first piece of intel we find, his 'confession'. The way the confession is placed, behind a wall you pass, rather than in front of you, means you're likely to miss it your first time through the game. It's almost a New Game+ bonus, since it reveals so much in light of the ending. Every time we see the real Konrad, it's in the form of intel: his conversation with the Radioman, his final orders to his men, they all paint a pretty direct picture of a man worn down by his situation. Some of you probably put two and two together and worked out what was really going on pretty swiftly, but the rest of us were likely waiting for the key to the whole mystery, the one piece of intel that would show us how he went from a hero to a broken man, to ruler of his own private fiefdom. Or some combination of the three.

The Konrad who lives in Walker's head - lets call him 'Darnok', just for giggles - is far more complex. Oh, where to begin with Darnok. Well, superficially, he's a monster Walker creates to shovel all his blame and guilt on, we're all on the same page there, but his character goes far beyond that. He sets up 'tests' for Walker, which only serve to reinforce this monstrous persona. He openly taunts him, inviting him to walk further down the road of atrocity. Everything Darnok does only serves to further reinforce that image in Walker's mind. But Darnok soon does more than that. Eventually, his tests become warnings. His taunts become accusations. More and more, Darnok confronts him with the truth of what Walker has become. Darnok certainly starts off as a scapegoat for Walker's crimes, but he becomes a manifestation of Walker's guilt, the part of him that knows turning back was the only right choice. Walker literally has a voice in his head, screaming at him to stop, to turn back, hell, even to acknowledge what he's done, even for the briefest of moments. And he's so broken, he ignores any of that and still he marches on, resolute in his belief that anything he's had to do has only ever been in reaction to the actions of others. His few moments of lucidity come across more as the kind of thing he'd expect someone else to say in his situation. Empty platitudes from a half-written script, utterly devoid of meaning or guilt. When Darnok praises him on his strength of character at the end, its only half-mockingly: with that indomitable core, in another world, Martin Walker could have been the greatest military leader the world has ever seen.

I mentioned a third Konrad earlier, and he's linked in with Darnok. He's the vision of Konrad that existed in Walker's head before Dubai. He's the shining paragon of all that a soldier could and should be. He's the hero, the man who risks life and limb to do what is Right. He's what Walker secretly wishes to be. When Delta enters Dubai, Walker is certain that something has gone sour. The John Konrad he knows (or thinks he does at least) would only stay behind to ensure the survival of as many people as he could - as he tells Lugo and Adams, "Orders ain't worth following if it means leaving people to die." He wants to find Konrad so he can help - so he can be part of this legend and be the hero he always knew he was born to be. You see, for Walker, it's not really about paying back the man who saved his life. It's not even about doing the right thing, not really. Walker has a hero complex, that much is obvious, but its probably the single most destructive thing about him.

Initially, Walker sees Konrad as a shining golden hero. For the longest time, he refuses to believe Konrad could have fallen, let alone fallen as far as he did. When at last he does accept that possibility, however, he doesn't just entertain the idea, he grabs it with both arms and never lets it go. He immediately switches from 'Konrad's not to blame' to 'Konrad's a monster' and believes that as fervently as he did the idea of the incorruptible Konrad. Now why is that, do you think? Yes, Walker's dead set on refusing to take the blame for anything, but beyond that, he sees this as his chance at playing the hero. I imagine his thought processes went something like this:
only maybe with more macaroni and sparklies and fewer dead innocents. At that point, this final vision of Konrad dies and is replaced with Darnok. Add to that some misplaced anger over Konrad's inability to save Dubai as he should have - no man of Konrad's stature should have failed - and you can see Walker's mind ticking over until it settles on its choice of action.

When you get down to it, there was only ever one way this story could end. I don't mean the multiple endings, exactly, I mean more with the discovery of Konrad's body, and the revelation that Walker now has only a passing familiarity with sanity. How would we have resolved things otherwise? A bossfight would've been completely at odds with the rest of the game (the hallucination of Lugo technically counts, but he's just a Heavy with more health behind him). Seeing Konrad, large and in charge would've presented difficulties - war criminals, as a whole, generally wind up dead before they get to trial. Seeing him as a flinching, shivering wreck would've presented even more, if only from an ethical point of view: say what you will about the choices the game forces us to make, even making us consider executing a mentally ill man like that would've been unforgivable.

At the end, the entire game was always a war of sorts between Walker and Konrad. Even in light of the psych report we find, denouncing him as a self-aggrandizing messiah with a tendency to buy into his own bullshit, I still think of Konrad as a decent man who genuinely wanted to save as many people as he could. He didn't kill himself because he failed, he killed himself because he couldn't deal with the loss, and those are two very different things. Walker, on the other hand, fit Konrad's psyche profile much more clearly. He was a man who wanted to be a legend, and when he found himself lacking, he constantly found others to be at fault. Konrad bucked orders, but he arguably did it for the right reason. Walker only thought of himself. That he has the chance to go home with his failure, is likely the cruellest thing that could happen to him.