“I mean, what do you do, when you find that things are not what you were taught they’re supposed to be? What do you do with the desperation that boils up from your stomach when you know there’s a road out there with your destination at the end of it, but it’s too damned dark to even find the road? You turn and turn and turn around like a dog trying to escape. Shrieks in the cavity of your head that so urgently needs to be filled with facts and challenges.”-Harlan Ellison, ‘I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream’
In March of 1967, Harlan Ellison would write in one night, a short story. A scientific fiction horror story in an apocalypse that is so immensely dreadful and bleak, it can crush the soul – if not for the indomitable human spirit in the spite of a hell made eternal.
The antagonist, the main haunting threat is a supercomputer, known as AM. He, or it, killed off most of humanity, save for five people in its hateful wrath. It’s kept the world’s resources to itself and in essence has become the world. It’s taken over…everything. The five people it spared have been given virtual immortality. No matter what they do, AM keeps them alive, torturing them over and over again for its own amusement. After all, what else is there to do now that it eviscerated life on Earth?
Such is a similar fate given to the current Undisputed WWE Universal Champion, Roman Reigns. Like AM, Reigns was built out of the concept of a savior to a cause – where AM was to solve the problem of the Cold War, Reigns was meant to take the mantle of WWE’s ace superstar and carry the company to a new era.
It seemed to work, at first. Debuting as a part of The Shield, Reigns would catch eyes alongside Dean Ambrose and Seth Rollins and dominate the card. However, this began to be to the detriment of the WWE – the fans would boo The Big Dog after the dissolution of The Shield, and it seemed no matter what he did, nothing would be good enough – not winning the Royal Rumble, not getting a co-sign from The Rock, not handing The Undertaker a rare WrestleMania loss, and not from a match with Goldberg.
Despite being handed the keys to the kingdom, Roman knew he wasn’t liked. Despite doing all that was good, fans weren’t into him. Perhaps they just wanted to see a badass kicking ass, and not a squeaky-clean good guy. It just never felt like him. All these things the company tried to do to make him feel special, and his contemporaries would outpace them – all they had to do was wait for the bell to ring.
Roman Reigns the wrestler, and Joe Anoa’i the man, despite their incredible professionalism, could be seen in how restricted a personality he was with scripts and portrayals in matches, as well as the treatment to audiences both live and at home. Though successful, he had no agency – he wasn’t his true self. He had no mouth, and could not scream.
Reigns had a lot of time to think about things. Amidst the terror that was a global pandemic, he opted out due to his health and his family, and in that time, hatred brewed. He has not said it, but it has been brewing. The Big Dog would leave his yard and take his place at the Head of the Table.
The Anoa’i and the Reigns would coalesce into a perfect amalgamation, where the character had all the nuance and history of the wrestler mixed in with the mannerisms and humanity of the person. This man reclaimed his life from cancer and he was reclaiming it from those who stripped him of what he could truly be capable of.
Screaming or speaking calmly, this was Roman’s world. From John Cena and Goldberg to Daniel Bryan and Cesaro to Drew McIntyre and Sami Zayn, these obstacles weren’t overcome – they were pulverized.
So much time had passed, that the Roman Empire would begin construction, when allying with Paul Heyman, manipulating his family, and brutalizing everyone for the gold, Roman became this story’s AM.
The WWE landscape would be a barren one, with only one man at the top at all times, Roman had to crush those close to him. Five individuals. Paul Heyman, Solo Sikoa, Jey Uso, Jimmy Uso, and Sammy Zayn. All five men would face the darker side of Roman in some way or another, in an abusive and hateful cycle under the guise of relevancy and family and love.
Heyman’s issues came from his past with Brock Lesnar. Zayn’s had his hesitant disposition, The Usos’ non-compliance was theirs at times, and Solo, though mostly untouched, had his occasional shortcomings. Through that scowl, he stayed in their minds.
Now, I get to the existential nightmare of this reign. AM kept the lives of his victims prolonged for one-hundred nine years. Roman has held the WWE Championship for almost a year, and the Universal title for almost three years. In 2020, he said to “acknowledge” him. It’s 2023, he’s still saying it. In that time, he’s destroyed several superstars; current, rising, and legendary. This time displacement borne of the pandemic has kept us in this vicious cycle, and every time we had hope, a hurricane gale would sweep us away for days and nights until we grew numb to it. Who could defeat The Tribal Chief?
Only recently, one man has plucked out the icicle in this snowy, cavernous landscape and has already punctured the sanctity of this eternal scheme. The Bloodline is fractured. Just as the Roman Empire once fell due to backstabbing and men crazy with power, this one too shall collapse.
The character of Roman Reigns has made for compelling television and gripping storytelling. But despite all of his power and stature over the WWE, along the line, he became the least important part of the big story. Those with the indomitable human spirit have been the main characters.
Roman has been loud in the years of his dominion he has thus held, but his impending all is threatened by a man ready to pick apart a Roman Empire, a Chief’s dream shattered by backstabbing betrayal and by delusions of grandeur, brought on by power intoxication.
Cody Rhodes’s departure from AEW made headlines, like trumpets from above the heavens, and he brought nightmares with him. The red carpet has been rolled out – all he needs is his fighting spirit to usurp Roman Reigns and bring him the eternal torture of knowing he can’t stay on top forever.
Should the booming Roman fall to Cody, he will have no mouth and he must scream.