I saw John Wick: Chapter 4 before Lance Reddick passed away. That didn’t make learning about the death of one of my favorite actors any easier or worse, but it did make it more surreal. Days earlier I’d watched his character die without warning in a movie I adored. On top of all the horrible things you feel when anyone dies so unexpectedly and so young, I couldn’t process how a coincidence like that was possible. All I could do was sit with my sadness and confusion desperate for an answer to a question that didn’t have an answer. How we could we not only lose such a beloved performer in such a shocking way, but how he could die right before world saw that exact same thing happen in a fictional story?
Everything about Lance Reddick’s death felt like a cruel cosmic mistake. It was as though the universe mixed up its scripts marked reality and fiction. It stole someone from us when we were only supposed to say goodbye to their character. But now that everyone can see how the John Wick franchise bid farewell to Charon, my many feelings about Lance Reddick’s passing also include a measure of joy and appreciation. Because without knowing it would, the film delivered a poignant and fitting farewell to an actor who deserved nothing less.
“Such is life.” The veracity of Ned Kelly’s famous last words might be up for debate. But what isn’t is how that sentiment framed John Wick: Chapter 4. The movie isn’t about dying, but rather how we live. You can’t control what happens to you. All you can control is how you deal with whatever life throws your way, no matter how difficult the situation. And that’s never more true than during the most difficult situation of all, when we face our own mortality.
For Charon—one of the franchise’s most steadfast, most respected characters—he faced the possibility of death the way he lived: with dignity. He wouldn’t allow Winston to meet the Marquis alone. He refused to walk away when his friend needed him, even when that friend told him to. Instead he walked into that office with his head held high. His eyes were wide open to what might await him. If remaining a good friend meant giving up his life, Charon would accept that destiny. And so he did. “Such is life.”
It was one of the most emotional and meaningful examples of the franchise’s most enduring theme. Friendship has always been one of the driving forces behind the John Wick franchise. John Wick would have died long ago without the help of his many loyal friends. Wick’s ability to engender devotion was always his true super power. He always looked after others, and they always did the same for him, no matter the consequences. In turn they saved him as often as he saved himself. That’s why it was only fitting that friendship was the defining theme of Chapter 4, which might ultimately be the end of Keanu Reeves’ time with the franchise.
From Hiroyuki Sanada’s Koji telling his daughter why he wouldn’t hand over John Wick, to John sacrificing himself to protect Caine and his daughter, the importance of those bonds was the film’s most powerful idea. Chapter 4 is a movie about friends and what they will endure for each other. Staying true to those we love in times of need? Giving of ourselves to protect them when they need us most? Even facing death to save the lives of those we hold dearest? The harder life gets the harder it is being a good friend, but as Koji said, “Friendship means little when it’s convenient.”
Even the most dangerous man in the world is nothing without friends. What hope do the rest of us have without the help of other if even Baba Yaga needs them? Without the proverbial family we choose, we are nothing.
That was also true of Winston, who never stopped thinking about his most loyal friend. Charon died early in the film, but his memory persisted throughout, both in terms of plot and emotional meaning. The courage and love Charon showed in facing the Marquis was as powerful an act of friendship as any seen in a John Wick movie. Charon was always the personification of dignity and poise. That was also true in his death. And that’s exactly why, without knowing it would be, the character’s goodbye was the perfect farewell to the man who brought him to life.
Lance Reddick imbued all of his characters with a presence and power few performers will ever match. He commanded your attention just by appearing on screen. He could convey more emotion with a stoic glance than some actors can with an entire monologue. It’s not a coincidence he was a major part of so many great TV shows and movies. He helped make them great because he made everything better.
That’s why Charon— named after the mythological Ancient Greece ferryman of Hades—was such an enduring part of John Wick‘s hyperrealistic world. Even in a fantasy land full of over-the-top rules, fights, and characters, Charon was a grounding force in Lance Reddick’s hands. He brought a respectability and seriousness to John Wick it might otherwise have lost in a parade of grand action sequences and countless executions.
Reddick’s role in the franchise, both his character’s place and the integrity he brought to the films as an actor, is exactly why Charon’s death was so shocking and so effective. He seemed indestructible, an immovable force of nature with no enemies. If he could die, anyone could. That just should have applied to the movie’s characters only, not its performers. “Such is life,” indeed.
It’s easy to think of the actors we see on-screen as the characters they play. We can also fall into the trap of feeling like we know them personally because of their work. But Lance Reddick wasn’t Charon anymore than he was Cedric Daniels on The Wire, John Basil on Oz, or any of the other figures he played. And no matter how much we admired him from afar, only his family, friends, and colleagues know who he really was as a person. (Though what they say about him makes him sound as warm and wonderful as we imagined).
But even if we didn’t know him personally that doesn’t mean we can’t/shouldn’t/won’t mourn his death, both as a person and as a performer. He brought us so much joy for so long as an actor. And he did so in large part because his characters always had a humanity to them. Not every actor gives us that. Even less do it every single time they take on a role. Lance Reddick was just that good. And the totality of his work does reveal something about who he was. Who he was is someone that deserved the type of moving farewell Charon got. The character faced his end the way we all hope we will some day. And when he was gone his friends mourned his death by celebrating his life.
Sometimes the universe is cruel in ways that feel so sinister and unfair we can’t believe we have to live in it. But sometimes even in that cruelty it gives us something beautiful to remind us there’s always light in the darkness. Like how in Carrie Fisher’s last Star Wars scene with Mark Hamill before she passed away Luke Skywalker told Leia, “No one’s ever really gone.” That’s what John Wick: Chapter 4 gave us with Lance Reddick. In giving such a wonderful, emotional farewell to Charon after he died long before he should have, it provided fans an unplanned but poignant farewell to Lance Reddick, too. It did so right up until his final moment.
As the light faded from Charon’s eyes his closest friend took him by the hand. His death was unfair, but he didn’t die alone. Nor were his final moments one of sadness or regret. With all the dignity, class, and humanity of the actor who played him, Charon told Winston, “It has been an honor.”
It was the perfect way for Charon to say goodbye to his friend and to the franchise. But, in the kind of moment that makes you think maybe there’s more purpose than coincidence behind the universe, it was also a perfect way for us to say goodbye to Lance Reddick. The honor belonged to us.
Mikey Walsh is a staff writer at Nerdist. You can follow him on Twitter at @burgermike. And also anywhere someone is ranking the Targaryen kings.