[This article may contain SPOILERS for AMC's Preacher and the comics.]
It took many years and a lot of (cinematic) blood, sweat, and tears, but Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon's seminal Western-Horror-whatever comic Preacher finally made it to the small screen. Seth Rogen, Even Goldberg, and showrunner Sam Catlin, in trying to do the series justice, took a few liberties with the source material (find out which ones, here). At the same time, they also kept the tone of the show appropriate for the Vertigo classic.
However, in adapting the show for AMC, the producers chose to expand upon some elements (such as Annville) during the pilot, while introducing other elements with little explanation (such as the cosmic, priest-exploding comet). One such dangling modifier was this week’s introduction, where audiences are introduced to a cowboy and a sick little girl.
Who the Heck Was That Cowboy?
This week's Preacher prologue might have left more than a few viewers scratching their heads. In it, we’re introduced to a Wild West cowboy looking very out of time, even if not entirely out of place, for the contemporary show. And that’s really about all we get: A caption reading 1881, a cowboy seeking medicine for his sick little girl, some chit-chatting around the campfire with cohorts, and we shuffle back to the present.
Clearly, Rogen and his colleagues aren’t going to spoon-feed non-comic book readers every little detail, or will at least let their imaginations scream for backstory until a later date. For those wondering about the mysterious stranger with a sick child (listed on IMDB as “The Cowboy,” played by Graham McTavish of Outlander), here’s a quick fill in:
The Cowboy had no name, at least in the Vertigo series, merely an appellation: The Saint of Killers. If Preacher follows its source even remotely, we’ll be seeing a whole lot more of him.
Where Did The Saint Come from?
Reputedly one of the most vicious soldiers in the Confederate Army, the future Saint of Killers inspired fear and awe from both sides. After the war, he headed back to Texas, making a name for himself off his terrifying rep as a bounty hunter and scalper. On a raid of an Apache village, he rescued a woman held captive by the tribe. After returning her to Laredo, they were eventually married. Family life changed his violent outlook on life, at least for a little while.
Now settled and raising a young daughter, the cowboy focuses on his family. Everything changes, though, after his family falls ill. He’s forced to set out on a long journey to procure medicine (enter AMC’s Preacher, from left field). On his way home, he’s waylaid in the charmingly named burg of Ratwater by a band of outlaws led by Gumbo McCready.
Finally making it home, he discovers his family has succumbed to their illness in his absence. Wracked with sorrow, the cowboy seeks out and murders each and every outlaw in Ratwater, save for McCready. Before the future Saint can dispatch him, the desperado runs him through with a shovel.
Upon arriving in the Hell, the cowboy's bitter soul freezes over the fiery domain. Unable to break the vengeful man, the Devil complains to the Angel of Death during a poker game. The Angel, who has tired of his role, comes up with a mutually beneficial solution. If the cowboy is willing to shoulder the Angel of Death’s burden, he'll be allowed to return to Earth and take his revenge upon McCready.
The deal is struck. The Angel of Death’s sword is melted down. From it, two magical Colt .45s are forged, along with the relentless and unhinged Saint of Killers.
What’s His Beef With Jesse Custer?
Well, actually, it’s nothing personal – at least in the Vertigo books. Initially, the Saint is summoned by the Seraphim to manage Reverend Custer. Now imbued with the Word of God, thanks to his merger with Genesis, Custer possesses a power which makes the angels, and even God himself, very nervous. In order to deal with the super-charged threat, the heavenly host rouses the Saint from his enforced slumber (due to his penchant for indiscriminate slaughter).
Upon waking, the Saint is charged with tracking down Custer and separating him from his life. Over the course of the Preacher series, the Saint proves himself to be a nearly unstoppable force, defeating just about anything the forces of Heaven, Earth, and Hell send up against him. However, Custer holds one card over the Saint, one thing that can (almost) stop this force of nature: the Word.
As a result, the Saint of Killers develops a certain respect for Custer – akin to that of a predator who appreciates his most dangerous prey. His reverence forges a wary bond between the two empowered individuals from time to time, making for interesting short-term allegiances.
What Does The Saint Mean for Preacher?
In the comic, the Saint of Killers and his take-no-prisoners attitude acted as a foil to Jesse Custer's own white whale of a quest. Never running out of bullets or missing his target, the Saint tracked Custer through hell and high water, leaving carnage in his wake. He was the specter, the indomitable force of death reminding the good reverend of the costs of waging war with the heavens and the Earth.
Despite his role as a merciless killing machine, the Saint grew into one of the more complex characters in the series. His earth-rending pain gave him a tragic element, one which would prove beneficial to Custer and his merry band. The same positive attributes which endeared him to his wife – that made him worth saving – also makes the Saint compelling, imbuing him with a code of honor out of Wild West lore. Their antagonism aside, the Saint of Killers eventually becomes vital to Custer’s overall mission to set the universe right.
Naturally, since AMC’s Preacher is a loose adaption, it’s uncertain how true to the source Rogen, Goldberg, and Catlin will remain. They’ve already deviated somewhat from the plot, by accepted design. However, it’s unlikely they’ll reduce the Saint of Killers’ vital role from the comic when translating him for the show, especially since…well, we’ll just have to wait and see exactly what role he plays in the series.
The next episode of Preacher, 'The Possibilities, airs Sunday, June 12 @9pm on AMC.