The most shocking moment of this week’s PlayStation Showcase was undoubtedly the resurrection of Destiny’s long-deceased Hunter Vanguard, Cayde-6. In the teaser trailer for next year’s Destiny 2 expansion, The Final Shape, it was revealed that Ikora will be reunited with Cayde on the other side of the portal that Witness carved into The Traveler at the end of the Lightfall campaign. Cayde’s mysterious return more than five years after his execution at the hands of Uldren the Owl is a big surprise that Destiny fans are sure to have mixed feelings about. I never wanted Cayde to come back from the dead, but I’m so glad he did.
If you had asked me a week ago if I thought it was a good idea to resurrect Cayde, I would have said a resounding no. For Destiny fans, the loss of Cayde was a devastating moment in the ongoing story and a plot point that only became more impactful as time went on. Destiny’s evolving narrative is one of the big things that sets it apart from other live-action games, and the death of Cayde-6 remained a pivotal moment for the story with far-reaching consequences. Bringing him back in his final form undermines the significance of his death and lowers the risk of other deaths in the future, but I’m not sure that’s a bad thing.
I’m a lifelong comic book fan, so I’m no stranger to character deaths that don’t stick. Every time a superhero dies it’s a cliché because everyone knows it’s just a cheap way to temporarily boost book sales. No one in DC or Marvel ever stays dead for long, so their deaths are never sad and their sacrifices are never great. This has been happening in the comics since the 1990s with the death of Superman and continues to this day. Kamala Khan was just killed off in the pages of The Amazing Spider-Man, but everyone knows she’ll be back before the end of the year, so no one cares.
I was devastated when Cayde was killed off in Forsaken, but I also recognized it as one of Destiny’s boldest and most successful storytelling decisions. Killing Destiny’s most popular hero was a ruthless decision by Bungie, and even if you didn’t like it, you had to respect it. People have speculated that Bungie had to kill off Cayde because they could no longer afford the level of Nathan Fillion to play the character, but I’ve always seen it as a deliberate choice. His death allowed Destiny to explore grief and loss in a way that an immortal superhero game couldn’t otherwise, and it created the catalyst for Uldren/Crow’s redemption story. Destiny never quite moved on from Cayde’s death, even though his life was erased by the Content Vault.
I’m not a fan of the content vault, but one positive thing I can say about it is that it made Cayde’s death feel even more real and meaningful. Other games have had heartbreaking deaths too, but they never really went away because their stories still live on. You can always replay The Last of Us to see Joel, or spend some time with Aerith in Final Fantasy 7, but Cayde is gone from Destiny 2. You won’t see him in the tower or hear his voice, and you can’t replay old missions when he’s was still alive. When Cayde died, he was effectively gone. All we have left of him now are our memories and the people whose lives he affected.
But now he’s back, so what did it all mean? By resurrecting it, Bungie fell into the comic book trap. When death is only temporary, the losses we suffer have no weight, and there is no opportunity to create real tension. Why should we be sad for losing Amanda Holiday or fear for Osiris’ last life when we now know that everything can be undone with the stroke of a pen?
These are arguments I would have made before the trailer for The Final Shape was released, but I’m so happy to see Cayde again that I just don’t care about the tradeoffs. Because I believed he was really dead, I was able to feel genuine relief and joy knowing he was alive and well. After burying Cayde and resisting the urge to give us any hint that he might return for the last five years, Bungie was able to explore grief and loss and still deliver this surprising and joyous reveal. Part of me is mad that it didn’t stick, but I can’t be mad that my favorite character lives again.
I’d like to think Bungie planned this from the beginning, and while we don’t yet know the circumstances of his return, we’re at a point in the story where something as monumental as a messianic resurrection feels appropriate. For all we know, the Traveler’s portal leads to the afterlife or a world where memories become real, or it may be an illusion created by the Witness to manipulate Ikora. During Lightfall, we began to understand the forces of light and darkness as a relationship between the real and the metaphysical. Cayde’s return is probably much more than a simple resurrection. Just because Cayde is here doesn’t mean he’s back in the story for good, and despite my concerns about Lightfall’s story, I still trust Bungie to handle it carefully and responsibly.
But if Cayde just came back, somehow resurrected by the traveler’s space magic, I still won’t complain. His death had already served its purpose and at the end of the day he would rather be alive than dead. We all experience tremendous loss throughout life, it’s just a part of life. While I appreciate the way Destiny presented grief through Cayd’s death, I won’t complain if they want to bring him back to us.
Next: I don’t hear Destiny players complaining because I’m too busy fishing