‘The Untamed’: Here’s why Wen Ning is the real tragic hero

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When we discuss the tragic hero, it’s hard to deviate from classic examples we find in Shakespearean literature: the Hamlets, Macbeths, or even Romeos. But why not a tragic hero from a 2019 Chinese television series? 

In its single-season release, The Untamed was an acclaimed hit that brings to life the animated classic of the same name. We are treated to great character representations, memorable fight sequences, and another chance to bond with our favorite characters.

Although not one of the main characters of the series, Wen Ning (played by Yu Bin) fulfills the role as a too often overlooked hero whose innocent beginnings are marked only by tragic ends.

Wen Ning’s path to tragedy 

First introduced as a part of the Qishan Wen Sect, the soft-spoken Wen Ning lives life timid and with a mysterious illness, but shows great promise as an archer. These skills lead him to become a favorite of our protagonist, Wei Wuxian, who showers Ning with praise and secures his loyalty & friendship in return. 

Ning fulfills the role as Wuxian’s assistant in life: staying with Wuxian through his fall to infamy, rescuing fugitives like Jiang Cheng, and even assisting in surgeries to save the life of such wanted men. Seems like a real stand-up guy, huh?

Despite all of his efforts to save members of clan & family from the less-than-reputable Jin Zixun, Ning is unsuccessful. His body is discovered after it was claimed he fell from a cliff. With Ning’s remnants scattered and bruises on his body, Wei Wuxian suspects something more sinister. 

When Ning is reanimated as a “fierce corpse” due to the resentful energy that remained with him into death, he retains his shyness & innocence but becomes prone to violent outbursts that Wuxian identifies as a valuable asset. 

Ning: Loyal to a fault

As a fierce corpse, Ning becomes a pawn that is often controlled and taken advantage of by his friend & partner Wuxian. Even after his spirit has been subdued by talismans, he still rises from death to recognize and remain loyal to Wuxion as the patriarch’s aide in battle.

When Wuxian is ambushed by the accusational Zixun on their way to a festival, Wuxian accuses him of threatening to kill him. In rage, he seizes control of Ning who promptly kills both men against his will. 

Instead of leaving the exhausted Wuxian for capture, Ning goes so far as to carry his loyal leader away from the scene. He even returns to turn himself in to the Jin Sect, both protecting Wuxian and condemning himself!

In life & living death, Wen Ning acts as a loyal friend and servant to a leader ready to use his body (and spirit) once his mind is lost. His reward? Thirteen years of imprisonment in Carp Tower. Ning is held with nails in his head, locked in chains made specially for him and subjected to studies by evil cultivators.

Wen Ning’s point of no return

Following Wei Wuxian’s resurrection, his absence of 13 years is marked by more violent proceedings. Using his powers to summon the dead for assistance in a battle at Yi City, Wen Ning is again summoned by his powers. Still wrapped in his chains, he feels obligated to answer the call.

We see Wen Ning as a true puppet of Wuxian, even when the patriarch acknowledges the pain he derives from Ning’s face. Ning stands by his leader in loyal fashion, even when confronted by the reanimated remains of his family at the Burial Mounds. But Ning knows no life nor undeath except to be at Wuxian’s side. 

Wen Ning serves as a representation of a force of good in life, and in death became a puppet to a friend & master who abused his reanimated body. As with any tragic hero, Ning’s irreversible mistake is surrendering himself to the Jin Sect in an effort to help Wei Wuxian. 

Although an act of loyalty, this vow is no match for the corruption and hunger for power Wuxian pursues. Ning is blinded by this same loyalty, unable to see the decline of the leader he once revered. Ning’s punishment as a servant & warrior in death is undeserved – but not unforeseen – and marks him as a true tragic hero.