Who Is Sam?
“Sam Porter Bridges” is certainly an odd name, but the weirdness of the last two seems to have camouflaged the first, which nobody is really paying attention to. “Sam” is about as boring as it gets in America. I think there’s at least one deeper meaning behind it.
Perhaps the most straightforward reference would be “Uncle Sam”, the nickname of the United States of America when we imagine it as an anthropomorphic character. This is a viable interpretation. Unlike most games Kojima makes, this one seems hyper-focused on the concept of America and the American dilemma of freedom versus control, if my theory is correct. It’s very probable that Sam either starts as or becomes a literal uncle at some point, if he has a brother or sister with a child. “Uncle Sam” could become an actual nickname we hear in the game, playing up the double-meaning so we can’t miss it.
The idea of having a niece or nephew could raise concerns in the game itself. Perhaps you need to make special deliveries to them. Perhaps they have special needs because of something in your bloodline. Perhaps you’re only an “uncle” in the sense of being a fatherly figure, but nonetheless have the option to be more or less present in the child’s life. Perhaps the Bridge Baby that you carry is the only child you manage, but since it’s not your own you end up feeling like an uncle to it. It’s impossible to say how many angles Kojima will use with this concept, but I would be surprised if “Uncle Sam” never took on a more literal meaning in the game.
The Meaning of “Samuel”
If we look deeper yet at the name in its full form, we learn that the name “Samuel” comes from the ancient Near East, and is found in the Bible. Like most Hebrew names, it is a composite of several words that have a meaning. In the case of Samuel, those components are “Shema” and “El”, meaning “Listen” and “God”. The name effectively means “God Listened” or, more pointedly, “God Adhered”.
The story of Samuel and his name is pretty simple. There was a woman who was barren and couldn’t have children. She prayed to God that He would open her womb and allow her to have sons. A priest named Eli saw her praying and thought she was drunk because she was speaking quietly, and rebuked her. When she explained her situation, he instead blessed her and asked that God would hear her prayers. This worked, and she bare a son. As a token of thanks and recognition, she named him Samuel.
Samuel is a very interesting character when we compare it with the themes of Death Stranding. Already we have the themes of barren women who can’t have children, reproductive capacity, belief in God as a solution to human problems, and priests with the ability to bless and curse. What are the chances that in the post-apocalyptic, strange world of Death Stranding, these particular themes will be relevant? Methinks pretty high. Kojima already forced the themes of reproduction, genetics, and inheriting identity in the Metal Gear series, even though it’s completely out of place there. He’s obsessed with the idea of being bound to other people through blood, ideology, and identity; in this case, literally bound to each other with handcuffs and cables. The umbilical cord is the ultimate expression of this physical bond between one life and another, and it’s already front and center in the imagery of the game. It only makes sense that fertility and all the other themes join the story.
But the story of Samuel gets much more interesting as he gets older, especially if the American future we see in the game is supposed to be contextually similar to the situation that the ancient Israelites found themselves in — which it very well might.
In the ancient days of Samuel, the tribe of Israel had no human king, only prophetic judges who led the people with direct commands from God. But the prophetic messages were getting rarer and rarer, to the point where people were losing faith. A crisis of faith and religion would certainly make sense in the desolate evil setting of Death Stranding, unless Kojima has decided to totally ignore the religious reality underpinning much of American life and politics. Bridgette, the former President, has died. There would be no more communication from their blessed leader — the one who unites the nation. In the absence of this “bridge” between everyone, a power vacuum exists and people are itching for a new charismatic leader. Presumably, the “Homo Demens” organization and Higgs are both public enemy number one and a potential candidate for a new type of priest/king rulership thanks to his exuberance and power.
Israel’s neighboring states were led by warrior kings who had giant height physically, and Israel was both afraid and jealous of this fact. Tall people were considered divinely blessed for various reasons, and they wanted their own king to lead them to victory. All they had were corrupt priests who claimed to speak for God. In theory God was supposed to be Israel’s king, but they rejected this notion. The presence of the giant monster creatures who hold the wires of the world in their hands could be a parallel to this “giant kings” problem back in Samuel’s days. Israel was told by God to go out and destroy those warrior tribes and conquer their land, eliminating the bloodlines of the giants along the way. But they were afraid to, and didn’t trust God to… ahem… deliver them.
Samuel the Kingmaker
The mother of Samuel doesn’t just name him “God Listened” as recognition, she also gives him to the priest who blessed her so that, at a fairly young age, he can be raised to be a priest. Surprisingly, he’s contacted by God and given important messages. Samuel grows into a famous and effective prophet, as well as a military leader who helps crush the enemy nations led by giants. He’s not a king, but he’s the next best thing. He serves as the final “judge” of Israel, eventually being commanded by God to install the first king even though it was heresy before.
Should we expect that Sam Porter Bridges had a special birth, was raised by a priest-like character who made that birth possible, and ultimately is blessed with unique gifts that make him suitable as a type of judge or prophet? Could the character “Cliff” be that priestly Eli character who raised him and gave him those gifts in one way or another?
In the Bible, Samuel doesn’t want to install a king. He knows that it’s going to lead to problems in the future, and he proved that they didn’t need it when he brought them victory with only God’s help. He delivers one of the most vicious warnings in the Bible to the people, telling them that a human king will inevitably enslave their sons and daughters, hoard riches for himself, deal harshly with them, and bend the whole nation to his own glory. The people don’t care, and remain stubborn. So God gives up trying to be their king, and Samuel picks the tallest man in Israel to be their new ruler. He becomes the reluctant kingmaker.
In Death Stranding, Sam doesn’t want to help Bridges install a successor to the former President, even though he seems uniquely positioned to do so. He rejects “reconstructionism” and questions whether they’re serious about reconnecting “everything and everyone”. Importantly, it is said to be “under Amelie’s leadership”, making it clear that this is centralized authority. Obviously we know Sam ultimately takes the mission, since the game revolves around connecting the cities, but this is probably a classic Kojima (actually, John Carpenter) plot where the protagonist has no choice but to play along, and the audience is free to condemn or support the justifications given along the way.
Side note: I believe the name “Amelie” is supposed to have a double-meaning as well. The root of the name is derived from Old German and means “industrious” — which would be appropriate considering her ambitions for America — but I’m more interested in how it sounds when you pronounce it in a breathy tone the way that Norman Reedus does when he first mentions her: “homily”. A homily is a sermon on a religious or moral topic. The spirituality of Amelie and her moral compass are no doubt important parts of what make her uniquely qualified to be the next President.
In the Bible, Samuel picks Saul as king, who goes on to have great victories, but eventually proves him correct. He disobeys God, becomes desperate, and is no longer blessed as a result. Samuel was no longer supposed to be needed, but that changed when God brings him back to pick a replacement for the evil King Saul. This is where King David is introduced. As a contrast to Saul, David is one of the most humble, modest, and inconspicuous men around; a lowly shepherd. It’s unlikely that our choices will dictate who becomes king or queen of America in the game, but the realization that it was better not to have a monarchy is certainly in the cards. Having that many “strands” in the hands of one person is a dangerous idea, especially since her status as a real living person is questionable and all we really have to lean on is a man with a skull mask.
David and Goliath
We all loosely know the story of David and Goliath. Kojima certainly does, at least. Letting Solid Snake have the name “David” as he fights and takes down giant Metal Gear robots against all odds was no coincidence.
Before he’s properly a king, David meets with the most fearsome giant in the lands, Goliath. He only has a mere sling and a stone, whereas Goliath has a giant weapon, six fingers on each hand, and is said to be totally invincible in combat. As the story goes, God blesses David and allows him to kill Goliath with a single shot from his sling, nailing him right between the eyes. Looking at the misshapen tendril head of the giants in Death Stranding, and the visible nexus of power that appears where a face would be, there’s a good chance we’ll be recreating this scene ourselves by the end of the game. Below is a screenshot of what happens when the unfortunate partner on your team is sucked up and absorbed by the giant. As soon as the man enters the strange face of the being, this energy blast happens and reality itself seems to zap away.
It’s not crazy to imagine that we’ll be personally “delivering” some kind of payload into this bastard’s face, like David in the Bible did.
Samuel and the Necromancer
There’s another big reason Samuel is one of the most interesting characters in the Bible. Despite popular conceptions about how spiritual the book is, there are almost no examples of characters coming back from the dead or visiting in spiritual form from the afterlife. One of the few examples in the Old Testament is — you guessed it — Samuel.
The evil King Saul is paranoid after he is cursed by God. He begins to lose everything. He goes to a necromancer woman and tricks her into contacting the spirit of Samuel from beyond the grave. Saul is hoping to gain favor from the one man who he knows has the power to give or take blessings, but even in the afterlife Samuel holds true to the commands of God, telling Saul that he’ll be joining him in the afterlife very soon. It’s a pretty badass moment, and it’s enough to theorize that Kojima enjoyed the reference for what he had planned. Samuel the Prophet is a man who continued to surpass kings even from the afterlife.
Samuel the Blessed Baby. Samuel the Priest’s Protege. Samuel the Prophet. Samuel the Giant Killer. Samuel the Kingmaker. Samuel the King Destroyer. Samuel the Spirit Messenger.
Sam the Deliverer
Kojima is going to exploit the double meaning of “deliver” to its utmost. You begin as a mere delivery boy but end up the “deliverer” of mankind. You simply bring packages to people, but eventually those packages are going to change the fate of entire cities. You’ll probably have to choose which cities are saved and which are lost. Through your deliveries to NPCs and other players, you get to build a defense network that can rebalance the nation. You get to decide who is powerful and who is weak, simply by choosing what to deliver, and to whom. You get to deliver mankind according to what you believe is right.
Perhaps you deliver serums, cures, rare technology, ammunition, and things that will save a city from disaster when the monsters or the terrorists come through. Perhaps you (and collectively, all players) manage the resources of the nation and vote with your deliveries. You could call this a type of “activist democracy”, where the people who care the most and try the hardest get to have the biggest influence on what happens next.
“Delivering” messages from God is also the job of a prophet, and it would be interesting to see Kojima work that in. Prophecies change history, and gives those who listen a chance to end up on the winning side. Or perhaps we’ll be confronted by others who claim to have prophecies, and we’ll simply have to use our hard work to do the talking. This would be ironic, considering the whole idea of the internet and being connected with each other is about mass communication, but it could be a deliberate irony.
Ultimately, all of this ties in to the meta-narrative that is screaming in our faces, and which Kojima is hardly tying to hide this time around. Look forward to the next article where we’ll explore the meta aspect.