A lot of good things can be said – and have been said – about how the WWE is handling Roman Reigns, Dean Ambrose, and Traitorface "Seth" Rollins in this post-Shield world in which we live. Roman is now beginning his long-rumored Push to the Top, which is inspiring a lot of debate on the boards but is bringing a lot of cheers from the live audiences. And the Rollins-Ambrose blood feud is receiving near-universal acclaim for the emotion and anticipation that it’s building.
So, why is something still nagging at me? I was a Shield loyalist and was very sorry to see that era end, so at first, I thought I was just being nitpicky and bitter. But the more I’ve thought it through, the more convinced I’ve become that the direction that WWE is going with the characters is flawed.
Don’t get me wrong – there’s plenty that’s right about it. But the problems are weakening the characters and could create some long-term problems.
Let’s start with what the WWE is getting right, because there’s plenty of it.Roman Reigns: A Guy Who Gets to the Point.
The best thing about Reigns right now is that it’s plain and simple who he is and what he wants. He’s a tough, taciturn dude who wants to win the top prize. He doesn’t joke around. He doesn’t want to give a speech or listen to a speech. He wants to get in the ring, fight you, and win.
He’s got a catchphrase or two to make his point: Assess and Attack. One Versus All. Love him or hate him, he doesn’t waste time, and he’s perfectly clear about his goal. And if the crowd reaction and the number of signs for him are any indication, it’s working for a lot of people.Dean Ambrose: Give That Man a Mic and Stand Back.
The best thing about Ambrose right now is that he’s all-out dedicated to his cause – and he can talk about it, at length or briefly, angrily or humorously or anywhere in between. It helps that his feud with Rollins is also thoroughly intertwined with where his character has been since he started on the main roster. It makes him feel like a fully realized person who we’ve known for a long time.
Also important to Ambrose right now is how he’s being used in the ring. He lasts and lasts in ridiculously vicious battles against all of the Authority’s toughest fighters. This could turn into LOLAMBROSEWINS or, at least LOLROLLINSNEEDSHELPTOSTOPAMBROSE. But the stroke of brilliance here is that JBL is selling what Ambrose is doing not as mega-strength but as foolishness. Ambrose "doesn’t know when to quit," "doesn’t care what happens to his own body," "doesn’t know when to stay down."
By positioning what he’s doing as recklessness, the announce team rewrites what we’re seeing – Ambrose isn’t some superhuman who can’t be stopped; he’s just pushing himself to the point of injury in his pursuit of Rollins. It’s perfect, because it’s exactly what we know he would do, and it keeps him from turning invincible – and, therefore, boring – on us.Seth Rollins – Darkness Rising.
The best things that Rollins has done in developing his heel character have come in the last couple of weeks. It was an abrupt switch, from high-flying hero to smarmy heel. But what he’s got going for him as a character is clarity of purpose – a primary goal of cashing in his briefcase and becoming the top titleholder, with a secondary goal of ending Dean Ambrose. (Or reverse those. Your mileage may vary.)
His intentions regarding Ambrose have begun to take a much more malevolent form in his last few appearances. He talked to Kane recently about leaving "just enough life in him" for Rollins to "finish him off." And if that weren’t explicit enough, during the July 25 Smackdown, after kicking Ambrose in the face repeatedly, he bent over him, grabbed him by the hair, and yelled, "Die! When will you learn to die!"
Given that it’s a PG show, I guess you can’t come out and say that Rollins is trying to murder Ambrose right there in the ring; his actual goal is probably to injure him badly enough to stop him from competing. But the not-so-sub-text here is that Rollins would not mind actually killing Ambrose. And that makes for a pretty scary heel.
So if all of this solid character development is going on, then… what’s my problem? I do think there’s a lot to sink our teeth into right now. But I also feel like WWE is leaving so much on the table that could make these already-hot stories far better in the long run.Roman Reigns: Not Much of a Brother.
Since the June 2 episode in which Traitorface betrayed the Shield, Roman has stood by Dean in the ring in exactly three episodes – one Raw and two Smackdowns. How many times has Dean been beaten to a pulp and left semi-conscious on the mat in that time? I have lost track. I’m thinking 493 sounds about right.
Okay, you get my point. It makes sense that Roman is not leaping into the ring during Dean’s actual matches to interfere – Dean needs to fight his own battles. But after-match attacks? When Traitorface Rollins (who Roman called "the scum of the Earth") is creaming him in the injured shoulder with the briefcase and then he and his Authority friends are beating him, and there’s plenty of time for a save?
It makes Roman look bad for not even trying.
The worst example was when Dean was beat down backstage by Rollins, Orton, and Kane while (as far as at-home viewers could tell), Reigns and Cena looked on. It was reported by attendees at the event that Reigns did run backstage to help, but not only was this not shown, but Reigns never mentioned Ambrose for the rest of the episode.
Adding further oddness to the Reigns character is that in current house shows and dark matches, he and Ambrose are reported to be frequently working together, as brotherly and chummy as ever. Viewers of the TV product, however, get no hint of this. All we see in the canonical storyline is a guy who is either completely obtuse or utterly unconcerned that the brother who broke his heart is now repeatedly injuring and threatening his remaining brother.
Add to it his catchphrase "One Versus All," and you would think that Reigns had a falling-out with Ambrose.
All of this makes Reigns’ chase for the titles seem shallow and selfish, especially compared to Ambrose’s fight for justice. It also disconnects him from everything that happened just a few weeks ago. But this can still be fixed, and it would result in a more sympathetic, relatable Reigns.
He needs a promo or two where he connects his current win-the-belts mission to vengeance for what the Authority did to the Shield; show us how becoming the title holder would screw over the Authority. Throw in a save for Dean the next time he’s being beaten down, and you recapture a lot of Roman’s character. And at some point – I don’t think we can go months before we get this – we need a Seth/Roman battle.
The longer we go with Roman not mentioning the Shield fallout, the less it feels like a part of his character, and the harder it will be to believably reconnect him to it later. It’s a powerful story, and it would be a loss to his character to give it up completely.Dean Ambrose: Not Exactly a Strategist.
Full disclosure: I have a hard time criticizing Dean because I enjoy him so much. But when I take a step back and force myself to be objective, the flaw that I see in the long-run is the "he’s sooo crazy that it makes him do stupid things!" angle.
Any time I listen to an Ambrose promo, I think, "This is not a crazy character. It’s a super intense character, a guy who’s probably willing to commit crimes in the name of his cause, but he’s not disconnected from reality." So when they go on and on about how he’s just completely insane, I don’t buy it.
That’s why, when he makes a move that’s completely illogical, it throws me. Why does he keep attacking Rollins before he actually cashes in the briefcase? Wouldn’t it make a ton of sense for the bell to ring and then Ambrose to be on him before he gets the pin? Listen to Ambrose speak and then tell me he’s too stupid or too crazy to think of that.
And how about that wild attack at Battleground, minutes before they could get in the ring and fight. What was that? That was ridiculous. Ambrose wanted a wrestling match; he got one; he was minutes away from it; and then he blew it for no clear reason. That wasn’t a crazy person being crazy; that was bad writing.
The fix here is to get Ambrose to address what he’s doing – and why – on mic. Give him a reason to stage his attacks before the briefcase goes live – have him comment that he knows he could destroy the briefcase’s power if he waited until after the bell rang, but it’s more fun to stop Seth before he can cash in at all because that means he can keep this alive for a year. It shows that he’s not just being stupid, and it fits his character. And don’t have him blow another match with a random attack. That was just frustrating.
WWE needs to understand that people are into Ambrose because he’s intensely dedicated to revenge, not because he’s legit crazy. Crazy is a whole other thing. The Ambrose we have is way focused, but he knows exactly what he’s doing and why.Seth Rollins: The Snidely Whiplash of WWE.
The most effective and horrifying that Seth Rollins has been was in the Raw where he betrayed the Shield. He made his attack, he stared and stared at them with that blank, empty look, and he walked away.
Since then, it’s been speeches and sneers and that cartoon villain laugh. ("Heh-heh-heh," said Traitorface. Shut up.) He’s explained that, never mind what we thought we were seeing for almost two years – he wasn’t ever friends with Dean and Roman; he was always in this for himself.
Really? You can go from leaping off the Titan Tron to save your brothers on Sunday to beating them with a chair on Monday? If you give us a speech about how you never really liked them that way, we’re supposed to just shrug and assume you were always kinda mean?
It would go a long way toward the future development of the Seth Rollins character to better understand who he was during the Shield. The better developed the character is now, the more there will be to build on for future alignment shifts and storytelling, especially if a Shield reunion is to happen in the next couple of years, as has been rumored. Otherwise, we’ll just have to assume that he can change to a completely different character at any time and try not to get story-whiplash when he does.
The other issue to deal with is Seth’s approach to beating Dean. On a practical booking level, the two have been kept largely apart since the Shield breakup. However, this has resulted in Seth sending others out to beat Dean half to death so that he can come in at the end, curb stomp him, and then stand over him gloating. The problem is, this makes Seth look like he doesn’t think he can defeat Dean himself. It’s helping that the announce team is starting to sell Dean as a kamikaze, but they’ve also been selling Seth as a sneaky wimp, so some damage has been done there.
What Seth has been unable to do is break Dean’s spirit. If they want the feud to go on long-term, Seth will have to get in Dean’s head at some point – leave him afraid, demoralized, doubting his ability to win. The only moment like that so far is the look that Dean gave him when Seth hit Roman with the chair. If they can recreate a moment where Seth really gets to Dean, they can build Seth as a powerful villain, not just someone who gets in more punches by bringing in more people. The longer that Seth keeps using the same approach with the same losing results, the more it weakens him and also makes him look kinda dumb.
A lot of good is happening with the former Shield right now, but hopefully WWE is looking to the future and how to keep the characters sympathetic (well, not Traitorface, but the others), interesting, and relatable, as well as developing them in ways that can be built upon for years to come.