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The character first appeared in the novel The Stand as a demonic figure who wreaks havoc after a plague kills most of the population. He makes his second appearance in The Eyes of the Dragon as an evil wizard attempting to plunge the fictional medieval city of Delain into chaos. Flagg made several more appearances in King's epic series The Dark Tower as one of the main antagonists, in which he attempts to thwart protagonist Roland Deschain from reaching the Tower, the linchpin of all existence, so he can claim it for himself and become a god. The Dark Tower expanded upon Flagg's backstory and motivations, as well as connecting his previous appearances together.
Aside from King's novels, Flagg was featured in a television miniseries adaptation of The Stand, in which he was portrayed by Jamey Sheridan, as well as making appearances in Marvel Comics' adaptations of The Dark Tower and The Stand.
Stephen King initially attributed Donald DeFreeze, the lead kidnapper in the Patty Hearst case, as his inspiration for Randall Flagg. He later attributed Flagg's creation to an image of a man in cowboy boots, denim jeans and jacket always walking the roads that "came out of nowhere" when he was still in college. As King's self-described best villain, the nature of Flagg's character and evil has been the subject of much discussion by literary critics.
He was given to a mill owner and his wife to be brought up to learn the ways of men. At thirteen he grew bored and burned down his home, then sought out his father Maerlyn. The next year, he was raped by a fellow wanderer, but instead of returning home he went on to fullfill his destiny.
Over the years, it is implied that Walter learned the ways of Dark magic and became a very powerful sorcerer and to some extent becoming a sort of Demon with a "quasi-immortality". It may have been, at one point or another, that Walter was taught dark magic by Maerlyn, the very Wizard who is responsible for forging the Bends O' the Rainbow, the mystical seeing balls (one of which Roland finds in Wizard and Glass), because he is often seen possessing said seeing balls throughout different parts of the dark tower story, using them for his own wrong doings. It also appears he is a keen studier as he wished the remains of a Slow Mutant to be bagged for later studies.
At one point he begins to attempt to drive a wedge between the John Farson and James Farson revealing the truth of James' parents' deaths and so causing him to become increasingly on the side of the Crimson King.
He enters into a sexual relationship with the demon of the Pink Sphere whom he calls his sister.
The Eyes of the Dragon
In his first chronological appearance, during the middle ages, Flagg terrorized the country of Delain and schemed to kill the king and throw the country into chaos. Part of his mega plan was to frame Prince Peter, the rightful heir. Thomas, Peter's naive and resentful brother becomes king and names Flagg his advisor. Due to his inexperience, Thomas gives Flagg large amounts of power and was easily manipulated by the demonic wizard, thus Flagg became the de-facto ruler of Delain. Flagg then plunges the kingdom into the dark ages. Years later it's revealed Thomas knew and witnessed the murder of his father, but was to scared to admit it, even to himself. Thomas fires an arrow into Flagg's left eye, and he dissapears. Peter takes his rightful place as king and Thomas leaves with his butler Dennis to hunt Flagg down. They eventually found him, but Flagg aparently survived.
Over the course of Earth's history, Flagg keeps appearing, claiming that he just "became" although he has memories of being a marine, a member of the KKK and the Viet Cong. He even remembers having a role in the kidnapping of Patty Hearst.
In an apocalyptic version of our world, a great plague wipes out over 99% of Earth's population. Flagg stations himself in Las Vegas, Nevada and sends out a psychic call to all survivors of the plague, which most experience in the form of dreams. He gathers people attracted to order and stability, even if it comes at the cost of fascism. But it is "not just the evil ones like him" who are receptive to Flagg's summons, according to Mother Abagail, "but the weak ones...the lonely ones...and those who have left God out of their hearts." Like any other despot Flagg rewards his followers with rank and creature comforts, while using cruel measures — crucifixion, torture — to punish those who violate his laws.
Flagg intends to destroy another emerging post-plague society known as the Boulder Free Zone, led by the adherents of Mother Abagail. In doing so he will become the ruler of the new, dominant civilization in the former United States.
Two of Flagg's followers in Boulder, Harold Lauder and Nadine Cross, fail to wipe out the leadership of the Free Zone. In turn, four of those leaders head to Las Vegas to confront Flagg: Stu Redman, Larry Underwood, Ralph Brentner and Glen Bateman.
Three members of this expedition are captured — one of which Flagg has shot in a fit of rage because he defies and mocks him. The remaining two are taken into downtown Las Vegas, where they are scheduled to be publicly executed by dismemberment. This gruesome display of Flagg's power is interrupted when his loyal-but-unpredictable minion, the Trashcan Man, arrives hauling a nuclear warhead out of the desert.
The "hand of God" appears and detonates the warhead, destroying the city and all of Flagg's followers in it. Flagg himself dematerializes just before the blast, surviving to reappear on a remote and unnamed beach.
The Dark Tower Series
When Roland was a young boy, Flagg, under the name of Marten Broadclock, orchestrated a devious plan of treachery in service of the Crimson King. Marten became the court magician of Gilead, acting as chief advisor to his father Steven, seducing Roland's mother Gabrielle, exposing this to Roland on purpose. This enraged Roland to the point that he decided to take his coming of age gunslinger trial at the unheard of age of 14. Marten hoped that Roland would fail in his test and be sent west with all other failed gunslingers. Unfortunately for him, Roland succeeded, he then escapes Gilead when Steven orders his arrest through a gateway he draws on the wall. When Roland's soul become trapped in Maerlyn's Grapefruit during The Long Road Home Marten becomes in control of the vision Roland sees whilst he is in there. Marten had another plan to murder Steven Deschain through Gabrielle, but this plan also failed. However Marten aided John Farson, a notorious madman turned revolutionary in the destruction of In-World and this eventually led to the fall of Gilead. After witnessing the final destruction of Gilead, Flagg fought with the other remnants of John Farson's armies at Jericho Hill, under the name Rudin Filario. Filario is said to be a screaming blue-faced barbarian who shot an arrow through the eye of Roland's best friend, Cuthbert Allgood, ending his life.
Walter luckily saves Clay Reynolds after he informs John Farson he has located the Pink Sphere, he has the idea of manipulating Charles Champignon into writing a letter of recommendation for a man named Kingson who will infiltrate the city and take the sphere.
He later has to resurrect Kingson after he was killed and aids him leave the city through a doorway and goes to retrieve the sphere himself discovering the demon inside has caused the death of Gabrielle Deschain and so forces the demon back into the sphere.
He is seen during the battle of the Fall of Gilead. After the battle he is seen ceremoniously taking down the Affiliation flag atop Gilead, making the city's destruction official.
He holds Randolph's family, Chloe and Edmund captive causing Randolph to betray Roland to get them back. He kills Chloe as Randolph is late to a meeting with him and later disguises himself, changing a crow to look like himself and pretends to hand the crow (Marten) over to Roland. Roland figures out that Marten is actually disguised and so Marten flees.
During the actual battle of Jericho Hill, Walter as Marten kills Cuthbert Allgood by shooting a cross bow bolt through his eye. After the battle he spits on Roland's body in triumph for stopping his quest for the Dark Tower, thinking him dead.
After the battle of Jericho Hill, Flagg takes on the persona of Walter O'Dim (or better known to Roland as the Man in Black) and flees from Roland. After this Roland begins his long trek across the wastes of a world that has "moved on" following Walter's every move and slowly getting closer to the Man in Black. After many long years of traveling across the ruined Mid-World landscape Walter rests on the far side of the Cyclopean Mountains, not before tempting Roland to drop his traveling companion, Jake Chambers.
It is there that Roland finally catches Walter and they palaver. Walter foretells Roland's future using a personalized deck of tarot cards and tells him that he must wait for the time of the drawing (The time when Roland would summon Odetta Holmes and Eddie Dean and eventually Jake Chambers again, to help him in his quest). After this, Walter shows Roland a vision of multiple levels of the Dark Tower. Roland remains asleep for hundreds of years after his vision and Flagg escapes him and places bones in his black clothing to make it look like he died long ago.
Walter escaped, however, and soon appears again as another apparition. After Roland rescues Jake from the Grays underneath the decaying city of Lud in their lair, the Grays leader Andrew Quick is left for dead. Soon enough, Walter appears to him, not as a sorcerer or a caped black figure as before, but as Rudin Filario, a wicked-looking man with raven black hair and the look of a more sinister Gunslinger. He tells Andrew to come with him, mirroring his recruitment of Trashcan Man in The Stand, and that his work is not done: they must stop Roland's ka-tet once and for all—they must not reach the Tower.
After passing through the Thinny into Topeka in the Level of the Tower from the Stand; Roland, Susannah, Eddie, Jake and Oy reach what looks like the Emerald City from the Wizard of Oz. Within, they find a revived Andrew Quick posing as Oz. He lunges to attack the Ka-tet but is quickly shot down by Susannah and Eddie. From elsewhere a cackling voice is heard and the tet realise it is none other than Martin/Rudin/Walter who is now calling himself Randall Flagg sitting upon a throne in the Emerald palace. This is where readers discover that they are all one in the same person. Randall congratulates Roland and his friends on making it so far but he assures them that they will never reach the Tower and he tells them to abandon their quest. Roland moves to shoot his old nemesis down but the old sorceror only says: "Sorry Roland ol' boy, only blanks against me remember". However they have Jake's gun from his world. Roland nearly shoots him whith this gun, which actually scares Walter. However, his reduced hand fails him and the wizard escapes, leaving the pink looking sphere, Maerlyns Grapefruit behind.
Padick's ultimate goal is similar to his enemy, Roland's. He intends to take over the room at the top of The Dark Tower and become "God of All". Flagg attempts to manipulate Mordred Deschain by getting a hold of his birthmarked spider leg to open the door of the Tower. Upon meeting with Mordred to palaver, the young spider boy senses his intentions and forces him to tear out various body parts for Mordred's nourishment and then proceeds to kill him in a rather brutal manner.
Randall Flagg's Names
- The Ageless Stranger
- The Walkin' Dude
- The Dark Man
- The Hardcase
- The Man in Black
- The Tall Man
- The Midnight Rambler (by Lloyd Henreid)
- The Adversary (by Glen Bateman)
- The Grinning Man (by Tom Cullen)
- Old Creeping Judas (by Ratty Erwins)
- He Who Walks Behind The Rows
- The Covenant Man
In The Stand
- Richard Fry - in Mountain City
- Robert Franq - in New York City
- Ramsey Forrest - in Georgia
- Robert Freemont
- Richard Freemantle
- Russell Faraday - "The Circle Closes"
- The Monster (by a homeless doomsayer)
- The Man with No Face (by a homeless doomsayer)
In other works
- Richard Fannin
- Raymond Fiegler
- Walter o'Dim
- Marten Broadcloak
- Walter Padick
- Walter Hodji
- Bill Hitch
- Revered Flagg
- Children Of The Corn (Possibly as "He Who Walks Behind the Rows," a sobriquet that includes all of the letters, in order, of the name Walter: "he Who wALks behind ThE Rows")
- 'Salem's Lot (mentioned)
- The Stand (miniseries)
- The Stand: The Complete & Uncut Edition
- The Stand: Captain Trips
- The Stand: American Nightmares
- The Eyes of the Dragon
- Heavenly Shades of Night are Falling (mentioned)
- The Gunslinger Born
- The Long Road Home
- The Gunslinger'The Dark Tower
- The Waste Lands
- Wizard and Glass
- Song of Susannah
- Wolves of the Calla
- The Dark Tower
- Haven (see Herald of Haven 1698)
*Randall Flagg is regarded as Stephen King's most popular villain.