‘The Falcon and the Winter Soldier’: Is John Walker a Bad Person, or Just a ‘Flawed’ Character?

The Falcon and the Winter Soldier sparks reams of debates on the Internet, many of them about the “new” Captain America, John Walker, as played by Wyatt Russell. Some fans have flat-out rejected the character, saying he’s “not my Captain America” Other fans argue that’s precisely the point. 

No one can truly replace Steve Rogers in the hearts of fans, but with that character being long gone, we get what we get. But is John Walker a hero, or a villain, or somewhere in between?

Last time on ‘The Falcon and the Winter Soldier’

Actor Wyatt Russell
Actor Wyatt Russell | Peter Sabok/COOLMEDIA/NurPhoto via Getty Images

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Be advised spoilers follow in this recap. In the penultimate episode of the show, John Walker didn’t look anything like a hero. Having just committed murder with a bloodied Captain America shield, he flees. Sam and Bucky catch up with him, intending to take the shield and turn him in.  After an intense and difficult fight, Sam and Bucky subdue Walker. 

Facing a government panel, Walker is stripped of his title and rank and discharged from the military with no pension or benefits, although the government stops short of a court-martial in recognition of his prior service. Walker protests, asserting that the government “made” him, but his arguments fall on deaf ears. 

He visits the grief-stricken family of his fallen partner, Lamar, but Walker does not tell them the whole truth, letting them believe that the man he killed was the one responsible for Lamar’s death. By the end of the episode, he is making his own shield and planning to take matters into his own hands, 

What do fans think of John Walker?

On Reddit, a fan bluntly titled a thread on John Walker a “master class in missing the point,” arguing that Walker is not a good man and not worth sympathy. The fan boiled down his argument to three points. 

First, that “John Walker’s character exists to represent the expression and adoration (of) national symbolism and what we (especially  in America) wish to uphold.” Second, “He fell short of the Captain America role, not because the shoes were too big, but because he was too concerned with how he filled the shoes. That mentality left him doomed to fail.” And third, “John’s mistrust of Sam and Bucky, his use of the (serum), and his unbridled rage at the end of the episode are all evidence that John Walker was never cut out to be Captain America.”

Another fan disputed this argument, saying that “I don’t doubt that John Walker isn’t worthy of the shield. His actions and frame of mind in these episodes have proven that. What I would like to argue though is that Walker isn’t an inherently bad villain character, just a flawed one. He’s been put up on a pedestal, making him super arrogant. He is way too obsessed with proving himself worthy of Cap’s legacy. He has no problem trading lives because he wants to win at all costs and deliver results.”

What is ahead for John Walker?

Where John Walker goes from here only the final episode knows, although in the comics, John Walker becomes “US Agent,” sort of a darker version of Captain America. However, comics fans will also tell you that the MCU often does not follow storylines in the comics, so the page does not always make for the best crystal ball. 

What is clear, however, is that the MCU is treading in murkier waters than usual, in a show where it’s not always so clear what “good guy” and “bad guy” mean. Bucky himself is a reference, being a good guy turned bad guy turned back into a good guy, although he hasn’t completely shaken off his old demons. Sam is the character closest to being a true hero, although even he feels conflicted about the responsibilities that come with that role. 

And what of John Walker? As another fan put it, “Just like Karli isn’t completely evil, despite performing literal terrorist bombings, Walker isn’t completely evil, despite beheading a man with Cap’s shield. This show thrives on morally gray characters and scenarios. These are both morally grey characters. I empathize with BOTH Karli and Walker, and can build logical defenses and reasoning for both of these characters’ actions.”