One night after a great Payback pay-per-view, headlined by a compelling and excellently executed six-man tag team match where The Shield proved their superiority over Evolution, the tables have turned. The Shield is no more.
In one of the more legitimately stunning heel turns in recent memory, Seth Rollins turned his back on the "band of brothers," following Batista's departure from Evolution and WWE to open the June 2 edition of WWE Monday Night RAW.
With the night's main event on tap, to feature Roman Reigns taking on Evolution's Randy Orton one-on-one, Orton and Triple H strode confidently to the ring, with the boss man carrying his signature sledgehammer, ostensibly to even the odds while he and his lone remaining partner were one man short.
As they made their way down, Rollins jumped out of the ring to fetch two chairs. Curiously, he did not hand one to Dean Ambrose, leaving the second on the ring apron while standing at the ready, steel in hand, waiting for the remains of Evolution to make their move.
Instead, Rollins dropped back a couple of steps as Reigns moved forward for the coming battle, then smashed his partner across the back, dropping him to the canvas. Reigns went down with a look of shock, with Ambrose, still standing, suddenly feeling the moment wash over him.
It was a moment reminiscent of some of the gut-punch endings of the HBO series "Game of Thrones," which has defied all convention over its four-year run, eliminating heroes as suddenly almost as quickly as they can create them.
Like Catelyn Stark uncovering the chain mail under Roose Bolton's sleeve, Ambrose knew he was too late.
While Catelyn made her discovery before the attack, Ambrose was stunned in the very moment after it began. Though it wasn't exactly the same, both Ambrose and Lady Stark had the horrible fate of knowing what was happening, and being totally helpless to stop it.
A mere moment later, Ambrose joined Reigns on the canvas. The end of The Shield, teased earlier this year prior to WrestleMania had finally come, and it came at the point where the unit seemed at its strongest.
As a fan, my feeling was that with The Shield gaining so much incredible momentum as a babyface stable, there was another year if not more in this. WWE's booking, at least in the main event scene, has focused more on longer, more drawn-out stories since SummerSlam last year, which is a good thing, but has certainly been an adjustment for a fan base that had over time become adjusted to the hotshotting and the month-to-month feel and progress of the stories.
While this turn may feel sudden, that is part of its beauty. And while some are going to be legitimately upset, that, too, is part of what makes it so great.
Rollins, known as "The Architect" of The Shield, was always the weak mental link of the trio. Reigns, smooth and powerful, has been their strongest member. Ambrose, "The Lunatic Fringe," was the wild card of the group, the unpredictable, chaotic member with the itchiest trigger finger and the sharpest tongue.
What was Rollins? He was the guy who tried to keep the group from breaking apart earlier this year, true, but he was also the one that bailed on his friends during a match with The Wyatt Family, disillusioned by their inability to gel enough to overcome a cult clique that may not have shared the laughs and bonding moments up and down the road that The Shield had, but had a true belief in their cause, whatever that cause may really be.
It was Seth Rollins who was the first to crack, and that was months ago. Try as you may to glue it back together, once porcelain is broken, it's broken. It will never be the same. That was The Shield. Though they appeared strong, the fragility from the previous shattering was never going away.
And if we stay with the Game of Thrones comparison, we have clearly seen Triple H as Tywin Lannister rise back to power - because he could, because he can, because he's the most powerful man in WWEsteros. As Helmsley said earlier in the night, he does not lose. Nor does Tywin Lannister. HHH knew there was something to exploit. And he zeroed in on the vulnerability, bringing Rollins over to fill the void Batista had left not three hours prior.
Why would Seth turn? Because he wanted it. Because at the end of the day, pro wrestling's greats of the modern era tend to fall into one of two camps: the Superman types that overcome the odds all the time and take their licks along the way with honor, or those who take shortcuts when they can. To this day, the greatest opposites in wrestling are Hulk Hogan and Ric Flair. (I'm talking characters here, if that hasn't been quite obvious yet.) Flair was great, and could handle his business solo. But why? Why not find the most beneficial situations that require the least individual sacrifice?
That is what the Four Horsemen were all about when boiled down, and Evolution has always been a successful yet poor man's version of the Horsemen, much like HHH is a successful (and great) but poor man's version of Ric Flair.
Is there any guarantee that Rollins gets whatever has been promised? Of course not. But whatever the offer was, the idea is probably going to be that it was simply too good to turn down. Rollins, Ambrose, and Reigns might have been able to keep fending off Hunter and whatever cronies he could conjure, but why go through all of that? We've seen for months now how dogged Triple H and his wife can be when their determination is to eliminate an inconvenience. Perhaps Rollins has watched Daniel Bryan's never-ending struggle, saw the same coming for The Shield, and got out when the gettin' was good.
Why would Hunter choose to approach Rollins instead of Ambrose or Reigns? That's simple. Reigns' pride is his greatest motivation, and that's a hard guy to turn. Ambrose is simply too unstable and unpredictable.
In Rollins, "The Architect," Helmsley may see someone much like himself deep down, motivated by power more than honor. Add in that Rollins had shown that aforementioned vulnerability earlier this year, and the willingness in a moment to abandon Reigns and Ambrose during a hard-fought war with a rival faction, you have the obvious choice for betrayal.
It's been a long time since WWE has had storytelling done as well as they're delivering right now, with some strong twists and turns, some genuine surprises, and a lot of logic to back it up.
Looking back, it was always going to be Seth Rollins. At this point, Hunter might want to ditch the Motörhead and come out instead to "The Rains of Castamere." Like Lord Lannister, this lion still has claws.
It's the gut-punch turn of the year. It might be the best "whoa!" turn I've seen since Hulk Hogan showed up and kickstarted the New World Order at Bash at the Beach '96. This is a character that the "WWE Universe" had invested in, had come to love, and that's why this hurts the way that it does. Maybe the writers studied the way the acclaimed HBO series pulled off its most shocking moments. Maybe they just came into this on their own. Whatever it is, the guard is changing at WWE, a lot of interesting and great things are happening, and as a consumer and critic and viewer and fan and all-around goofball, I don't know what more I could ask right now. When I'm still thinking this hard about an episode of RAW 90 minutes after its conclusion, something went right.
Things are heating up in WWE, and it looks like we're in for a hell of a summer.