Yeats yearned for a ruling class, a watchful eye that knew best. Stan Smith wrote in W.B. Yeats: A Critical Introduction, "Yeats believed in the values of a hierarchical, ordered society in which a cultural and political aristocracy gave leadership and dignity to a people who respected and served them. ... Economic and political inequality would be unimportant compared with the sense of unity and wholeness derived from sharing a common culture and set of values." Today, most people realize that a democratic system of government, with careful checks and balances on power, is a much better option than existing at the whims of a ruling class.
Half-Life 2 is the antithesis to Yeats' system, swapping the beast's triumphant aristocracy for Freeman's strive for equality and freedom. The name "Freeman" gives his mission more meaning than in the first game. In the original, he was a man trapped in extreme circumstances beyond his control, forced to fight not only extraterrestrial creatures but also contend with a military force dedicated to quashing the incident. In the sequel, he is so much more: a folk hero, a political icon, a quasi-religious figure, wielding his crowbar like God's wrath. When resistance members greet him in the game, they speak to him as if he's almost unreal, helping him in his cause, regardless of personal consequences. He has awakened after a "stony sleep," bringing a nightmare to the Combine's "rocking cradle" and its all too human figurehead. Both military commander and preacher, Freeman has come from "somewhere in the sands of the desert," and he is "a shape with lion body and the head of a man." His body is decked in orange and golden colors, much like a lion, but his head is that of a man, quietly contemplating his next move, your move, through the shadowy recesses of this ruined world in which he's been dropped.
The title of this essay is not entirely correct, though: Freeman isn't slouching toward Black Mesa , he's converging on the great citadel in the middle of City 17 , the Bethlehem of our story. Bethlehem is a holy place in Christian theology, which makes it the perfect location for the beast of Yeats' poem to encroach upon. In City 17, that ideal is flipped on its head, replaced with a center of darkness and power.
Theologically, the forces are the same. Gordon is the good force in the universe, guided by the inscrutable, God-like hand of the G-Man, facing the seat of evil, Dr. Breen . In an even more direct rejection of Yeats, however, the forces in Half-Life 2 are non-supernatural. It continues the series' theme, man as a force in this world; whether for good or ill is his choice. It is this choice, this need to carve out our own destiny and define ourselves based on our own hopes, dreams and fears that makes us human. So what is slouching toward Bethlehem?
Tom Rhodes is a writer and filmmaker currently living in Ohio. He can be reached through Tom [dot] Rhod [at] gmail [dot] com