After 'Dune: Part 2' Some Are Wondering If Paul Atreides Is Really a Villain

Paul unleashes a holy war at the end of 'Dune: Part 2,' but what does that mean for his morality? Is he a villian? Fans need to know.

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Mar. 4 2024, Published 10:46 a.m. ET

Paul Atreides with a hood on in 'Dune: Part 2.'
Source: Warner Bros.

Spoiler alert: This article contains spoilers for Dune Part 1 and Dune Part 2, as well as the Dune book series.

If you watched the first part of Dune, which ends with Timothee Chalamet's Paul Atreides linking up with the Fremen and walking off into the desert, you may have assumed that Part 2 would give Paul a chance to seek redemption for the murder of his father by the Harkonens. If that was your guess, you were basically right.

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However, as Part 2 makes clear, Paul's story isn't necessarily that of a hero earning redemption. Instead, he spends much of Part 2 trying to avoid starting a holy war, only to eventually succumb to his destiny, even if it may cause untold bloodshed. Following this complication in Paul's story, many are now trying to understand whether Paul is in fact a villain in the world of Dune.

Paul Atreides and Chani in 'Dune: Part 2.'
Source: Warner Bros.
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Is Paul Atreides a villain?

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the answer to that question is fairly complicated. Paul spends much of Dune Part 2 working with the Fremen to take control of Arrakis back from the Harkonens, who killed his father and wanted to kill him. As Paul works with the Fremen, though, many among them begin to suspect that he is actually a messiah figure who has been foretold to them, in large part through the workings of the Bene Geserit.

Paul eventually sees a vision that reveals that if he goes to the south of Arrakis, and follows his mother, who is actively trying to convince the Fremen that he is their messiah, billions of people will die. Eventually, though, Paul succumbs to the pressure of those around him who want to defeat the Harkonens. Paul ventures South, where he unlocks even greater power and eventually ascends to become emperor of the known universe.

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As Part 2 ends, Paul is riding off with the Fremen to begin what Lady Jessica describes as a "holy war." Those kinds of wars are usually pretty bad, and Zendaya's Chani isn't on board. Paul, though, has defeated the Harkonens, who attacked his family, and has helped the Fremen to liberate their planet. That's not typical villain behavior, even if he's also aware that the war he is about to begin will lead to untold suffering.

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Paul is also a Harkonen.

One of the major reveals at the end of Part 2 is that Paul is himself a Harkonen. Lady Jessica is Baron Harkonen's daughter, meaning that Paul is both a Harkonen and an Atreides. Of course, a person's bloodline isn't their destiny, but this of course means that he is much closer to the story's villains than he first thought.

Now that he is emperor, the question of Paul's villainy only becomes more complex. His visions reveal that billions will die as a result of the path he has now taken. Of course, if you're someone who subscribes to Machiavellian philosophy, it's possible to see how all of those deaths could be justified, even if Paul also knows they are a moral abomination.

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