With so much hype for Death Stranding and so little information on what it is actually about and no release date yet, all fans can do is speculate. Creator Hideo Kojima, luckily, loves to leave trails of breadcrumbs for his fans to follow, giving them clues to piece together in the meantime. There's a lot of compelling evidence that Kojima's ideas for P.T. and Silent Hills were re-purposed for Death Stranding, including themes of infants, umbilical cords, and potentially Norman Reedus' character. But the character we probably know the least about is the one played by Mads Mikkelsen, the purported villain of the story. It can be hard to tell the purpose of a character without knowing about the story he takes part in, but it may be possible for us to glean some things from the clues we have.
What we can tell at a glance is this: Mikkelsen is able to control some if not all of the undead soldiers via the black umbilical cords. He is dripping with the mysterious black oil that permeates the world of Death Stranding. It's interesting to note that Guillermo Del Toro's character has an organic-looking, blue-white umbilical cord, while Reedus and Mikkelsen have thinner black cords. Perhaps they are both dead, while Del Toro is still alive? Mikkelsen wears modern day military garb, setting him apart from the soldiers around him, which all wear WWII-era gear. It seems clear that he has some authority over the dead beings inhabiting the world. How did he obtain this power? Has he always had power over the dead? Did he enter this world with them? Kojima has said that the title of the game is pretty literal, that something dead has been brought to this world, and is stranded here. Did Mikkelsen come from the world of the dead?
While much speculation says that Mads Mikkelsen will be playing the villain of Death Stranding, Mikkelsen has taken it upon himself to state that things will not be so black-and-white. He stated at a convention: “No, I’m not a villain. I am a character in there that you can kind of decide what he is, but he’s not a villain.” This statement just makes the role all the more intriguing. Many people, judging by the imagery accompanying Mikklsen's character, have theorized that he could be the Grim Reaper, or Hades, or some other lord of the dead, as he is seen in an authoritative position in the trailer, and seemingly emerges from the underworld. I think it's important, however, to re-evaluate our perceptions and our assumptions. We are assuming that Reedus and Guillermo Del Toro are the good guys, based on the emotions they display, and the way the trailers clearly want us to empathize with them. But with Kojima, things are rarely straightforward. What if Mikkelsen is also a playable character? What if all three of these characters, rather than being heroes or villains, occupy a moral grey area?
What could Del Toro be doing in this trailer? In our minds, we connect him with Reedus, and the baby, and the "Bridges" organization which may be "the good guys" in this story. We see him about to enter the tunnel just before Mikkelsen appears, but we don't get to see his reaction to Mikkelsen's arrival with the skeleton crew. Is Del Toro being hunted by Mikkelsen? Or was he going to meet Mikkelsen? It's difficult to say when we don't get to see the two characters interacting. The truth is, we don't know how these characters really fit into the world of the game. And judging by Del Toro's expression and behavior, he is about to do something he doesn't want to do, when he switches on the artificial womb. Is he possibly taking the baby to Mikkelsen? Is Del Toro a double agent?
Due to Mikkelsen's comments on the nature of his character, some fans speculate that he will be similar to Ocelot from the Metal Gear series, whose loyalties changed many, many times over the course of the series. Complicated characters and story arcs are a staple of Metal Gear, so it would be natural for Kojima to continue this style.
It's interesting to note that, on the archway of the bridge under which Mikkelsen appears, is written the letter "J." This would seem to be a reference to the mysterious character from P.T. In the demo, one of the messages, as well as one of the fake crash screens, are attributed to J. Some gamers even report that whispering a "J" name (some specify the name "Jarith" or "Jack") into the microphone is necessary to beat the demo.
"Knowing you, I was sure you'd notice this game and play it. I will never – can never – forget that day 20 years ago. I have something to tell you. Contact me. – J."
-Crash screen message attributed to "J." in P.T.
Could Mikkelsen be the mysterious J.? Is he yet another "Jack" in Hideo Kojima's array of characters? Unfortunately, this name, if it even is attributed to Mikkelsen's character, tells us little about him. There's one more place we can look for clues, though it may at first seem unlikely, there are some compelling parallels.
During the long wait for Game of Thrones Season 6, there was much speculation as to who would play the new villain, Euron Greyjoy, otherwise known as the Crow's Eye. A very popular fan casting was Mads Mikkelsen, and many photoshop mock-ups appeared of the actor as the villain. All this was taking place in 2016, as Hideo Kojima must have been developing ideas for Death Stranding. An interesting note on Euron Greyjoy: In a released chapter for the upcoming Winds of Winter novel, we discover that Euron is kidnapping the priests of various religions, including his brother Aeron Damphair, a priest of the Drowned God. After being forced by Euron to drink a hallucinogen, he has a vision of Euron sitting on the Iron Throne, no longer fully human, now a Cthulhu or kraken-type creature with tentacles. This has led many fans to speculate that Euron plans on performing a ritual to become the Drowned God of his people, in order to take over Westeros.
Many fans were greatly dismayed when Mads Mikkelsen was not chosen to play Euron Greyjoy, and were further disappointed when the television show's rendition of the character was so distant from his book counterpart. But, let's remember: The creators of our favorite media also consume media. While I haven't found a source that suggests Kojima watches Game of Thrones or reads A Song of Ice and Fire, it's not too far-fetched to say it's still feasible. And it would be appropriate for the creator of one of the most convoluted political fiction stories (Metal Gear) to enjoy another of the most convoluted political fiction stories (A Song of Ice and Fire).
Is it possible that these popular fan theories had some influence on Hideo Kojima when creating Mikkelsen's character for Death Stranding? The Ironborn, Euron Greyjoy's people, have a fascinating saying: "What is dead may never die, but rises again, harder and stronger." If the dead are washing up and returning in Kojima's new game, these words would be quite apt, don't you think?