Portrayed by: Josh Dallas
Show: ABC’s Once Upon A Time
A man who’ll fight off armed knights with his infant daughter in his hands and succeed is a man worth writing a deep dive on. There’s ultimately nothing he can’t do, and it’s seldom that a character lives up to their name as appropriately as Once Upon A Time‘s David Charming does. (Or, David Nolan, whatever. Charming is his last name in my book.)
The fact remains, through all the inconsistencies and questionable decisions in the series, Charming’s honor was a steadfast presence of hope that made the show watchable. Like his daughter, Emma Swan, and wife, Snow White, Charming was easy to adore from the moment he appeared on our screens, taking one of the dullest Disney characters and bringing in memorable layers for six seasons.
David Charming was the heart of the family in many ways, grounding everyone to a place of unparalleled stillness through his compassion and courage that effortlessly inspired everyone around him. The same could be said about Henry, but that’s not the purpose of this essay. Charming is, in every sense of the word, one of the bravest characters in Once Upon A Time’s history—a type of bravery that we aren’t measuring through his undeniable gallantry but rather his transparency, sincerity, and the immovable empathy that pushes through him.
David Charming and The Honorable Transparency
There’s a great deal to appreciate about Charming, but his transparency with those he adores is at the top of the list, making him both incredibly admirable and simultaneously flawed. While David Charming certainly lived up to his name, he wasn’t perfect but constructed of flaws that made him more grounded and complex. As a shepherd boy, Charming was no stranger to hard work and an appreciation for the little things in life, and as an adult, it gave him a better understanding of the world. But the circumstances in his life also forced him to put up walls and jump to conclusions. And those walls often led to outbursts that weren’t always considerate. However, characters always knew where they stood with him, and that’s the kind of transparency people often conceal.
Charming made it abundantly clear that a person wouldn’t get his respect unless they were worthy of it, which ultimately allowed people to understand where they stood with him. And while Charming’s words aren’t always kind towards characters like Regina, Rumple, and Killian, they were frequently what they needed to hear to rise to their highest potential. (Regina, especially.) Nonetheless, just because Charming wasn’t sugar-coating his emotions, it didn’t mean he’d ever refuse to lend a helping hand. He was the type of man who’d always try to do the right thing whether the receiver was worthy or not. Whatever and whoever he’s been because of curses, David Charming has always been honest and fair. He brought a necessary form of transparency to our screens while learning from his mistakes, protecting those in need, and fighting with everything in him when necessary.
Charming’s transparency might’ve included shortcomings, but his sincerity and the genuine kindness in his heart were unparalleled. When you grow up with very little and are pushed into a life of royalty with an evil figure who’ll do anything to threaten your happiness, you’re forced to bend and break in ways no person deserves to. In more ways than one, Charming got the worst of it.
Still, it boils down to the person he chose to become, even with all the losses in his life. Charming was an incredible husband, the most understanding father, and the noblest deputy in a town where so few could be trusted. But as a result, that sincerity cobbled with the unyielding compassion within him drew in fears that he’d fail at protecting those he loves most. Once Upon A Time had several great episodes dedicated to the shepherd boy and his journey towards finding strength, but none brought his story full circle as beautifully as “Murder Most Foul.”
Fears and Light
In that episode review, we had said: “We learned early on that David’s greatest fear is failing as a father and a husband. David Charming has often been victim to the idea that he’s somehow never enough, and one day, he’ll be seen as the disappointment that he believes he is. In an episode that addressed similar emotions with two different men, we had one man (Killian) thinking that he’ll never be worthy in the eyes of Prince Charming, while that very Prince’s greatest fear was that he’s the one who’s not enough.
And so, Once Upon A Time allowed Charming to break, resulting in a breakdown that showcased the somatic fall of a man who has always been perceived as the strongest. At that point, fear had been a constant in David’s life because of the amount of responsibility he had taken upon himself. It slowly terrorized him until this final confrontation with himself. The affirmation that he’s terrified and encompassed with the belief that he may not be enough (a moment which reminded me a lot of Emma’s breakdown in “Nimue“). It served as one of the most powerful moments in Once Upon A Time history as we watched David fall on his knees.
It’s never easy to be vulnerable, but the representation of surrendering that the scene painted was cathartic and beautiful. There’s a reason we pray on our knees—a manner of release in a purely innocent moment of giving our all to God. And for David, this was a moment where he gave in to all the pain by letting go of the image of Prince Charming. At that moment, he wasn’t a dazzling prince or the wrong twin; he was David, a shepherd boy who’d just learned that his father truly loved him. A shepherd boy who allowed himself to fall to rise higher than ever before.
It’s imperative that characters acknowledge their mistakes, and that’s what David did as he apologized to Killian for what he had made him do. And in this case, Once Upon A Time handled an apology well. As a perfect example of the fact that our vulnerabilities don’t weaken us, the fact that Killian saw David at his lowest but still believed that he sets the highest standard as Prince Charming was brilliant. A genuinely sharp reminder that we are not defined by the moments we fall but rather by the choices we continue to make to better ourselves. And our vulnerabilities, no matter how big or small, do not showcase weakness but the amount of strength it takes to confront all that’s within us to be freed from the crosses we carry.
“Murder Most Foul” exhibited raw human emotions while bringing us much closer to understanding Charming’s heart, his struggles, and the demons he often battles while he armors those he cares for. The episode also strengthened him in a way that showed exclusive character development for a soul that was already pretty damn great. No character is without flaws, but time and time again, Charming has tried to be noble and benevolent. He’s tried tirelessly to rise above the challenges with lasting, honorable solutions. He’s given love far more than he’s expected to receive. He’s been the kind of person who’s set examples throughout his life, allowing people to see that humbleness and strength could go hand in hand in a successful life.
Related Content: Relationship Deep Dive: Snow White and Prince Charming
David Charming was a paradigm of an ideal husband and an exceptional father/grandfather. There was (and still is) an endless amount to appreciate about Charming, allowing him to quietly become a character for whom we could always find more words for. He was impossible not to adore, even when the show didn’t know how to handle his arc correctly. And for six years, Josh Dallas delivered one astounding performance after another, rising to every challenge with innate understanding and acute embodiment of a character whose shoes are difficult to fill. There could be no other David Charming. Dallas layered the character beautifully with the continuous delivery of a wide range of emotions, which allowed us to see behind the eyes of an honorably damaged man with an abundance of love to give and bravery far more admirable than he could ever imagine.