Portrayed by: Colin O’Donoghue
Show: ABC’s Once Upon A Time
There are very few characters who’ve had a redemption arc as engrossing and as sharp as Once Upon A Time’s Killian Jones—characters who stumble and fall in ways that are so realistic that we’re able to understand the human complexities remarkably through them. From the moment Killian Jones appeared on screen, it was clear he’d be one of the most compelling characters in the series. It was also evident that his journey would encompass considerable life lessons written to inflict hope.
Killian Jones, later known as Captain Hook, wasn’t always a villain, which is partly why his growth’s been so excellent. He’s gone from a Navy kid with much innocence to a broken man on a quest for vengeance, and through persistence, that fractured man found his way onto the hero’s column. In his journey to self-discovery, his mistakes and the temporary setback in his inability to forgive himself have showcased true bravery in the form of self-awareness. In every sense of the word, Killian is a man of honor—his choices to better himself out of the sheer desire to be worthy of the heroic title strengthened his character profoundly even while the writing faltered.
Killian Jones, The Man of Honor
In short, the presence of imperfections and honorable traits have made Killian Jones a character to be empathized with—a character to care for and respect.
He was an honorable character because of his choices, and on a show like Once Upon A Time that consistently reminds viewers of the importance of agency, Killian was always an anchor in the series. People aren’t born good or evil but rather innocent, and until his brother Liam Jones died, Killian’s innocence was a staple in his personality—the blue-eyed boy who’d follow his older brother to the depths of the seven seas if need be. A boy who believed that rum would turn even the noblest of men into repulsive, weakened versions of themselves. And that innocence cobbled with Killian’s choices to believe in something more significant than the life of abandonment he endured allowed him to serve in a selfless position. And while that innocence was temporarily tarnished through life’s curveballs, upon the realization that Emma Swan could see the lost boy within him, Killian chose to rise above his hatred.
Killian’s rise to heroism wasn’t without mishaps, but the realization alone was an authentic first step in becoming a better version of himself. It’s worth mentioning that my favorite part of Killian’s journey has been that no one demanded these shifts from him; no one told him he needed to change—the fact that it was his choice allows viewers to understand that we are in control of our destiny. (Yes, Emma asked him to be a part of something bigger in the Season 2 finale, but she didn’t hold a dagger to his throat. She gave him the platform to choose a side where he wouldn’t have to be the villain.) The rest was his for the taking. Killian needed to let go of the burdens that engulfed and forced him into a life filled with darkness, and he did so through an organic path toward redemption.
As his storyline progressed and Season 3 developed, Killian’s persistence took center stage in illuminating the strength unveiled through vulnerability. Sometimes, even when his heart was filled with more love than hatred, Killian’s rage won. But it was through the constant fights against the darkness that Killian would find control. Upon recognizing that he is, in fact, capable of finding his way back to the light, his temptations were in the form of temporary traps as opposed to the imprisonment he’d faced in the past. And Killian’s choices to ascend beyond the darkness naturally opened up parts of his heart that he’d put walls around.
Thus, as a man who’d lost everything he loved, finding someone to care for more than himself allowed him to live for better days. And letting his guard down enough to live for another almost always made him question the decisions that weren’t honorable. Killian Jones became a better man when he allowed himself to love Emma Swan. Now, while love inspires goodness, the choice to let yourself fall for someone even though they may not feel the same way takes immense courage and vulnerability. And a fascinating aspect of Killian’s love for Emma is that even if she never returned it, because of the light she saw in him, he chose to always do good because of her. If she never loved him back, he wouldn’t resort to his old ways after consciously deciding that a woman deserves to have some semblance of good in her life, choosing to become that light day by day. Case in point, this singular decision made Killian Jones a hero long before people declared him one.
There’s also the matter of Killian’s persistence in every area of his life that has made him indescribably admirable. In Season 2, Episode 4, “The Crocodile,” Killian states that “a man willing to fight for what he wants deserves what he gets,” illuminating the fact that he’s established a clear understanding that nothing in life is supposed to be easy. Despite a universe with all sorts of magical concoctions for things, Killian Jones believed people needed to earn the things they desired. And while women aren’t a prize by any means, it’s about the idea that being worthy of one’s love requires the fight to prove it. Whether fighting for someone’s love or rank, Killian knew that if the efforts weren’t strong enough, the outcome wouldn’t be either.
An honorary title demands putting anger and pride aside even when the person in front of you doesn’t deserve forgiveness. For five seasons, Killian Jones has proven to viewers that the honorary road requires conscious efforts to better oneself. It requires choosing the hard path, even if it could lead to further heartbreak. And when it came to Killian’s reactions to other members of Storybrooke, he handled it with an admirable grace despite the momentary (and rightful) quarrels with Rumple and Regina.
In Season 5, when Killian is presented with the choice to give into the darkness, he eventually sacrifices himself for the sake of Emma’s heart and their loved ones. It was no longer about himself but the love he knew, and though he played with the darkness for a while, it wasn’t long before he selected the hard path that’d bring back the honorary man within—the one whose heart tirelessly beat for one woman’s love.
When it comes to Killian Jones, he’s made several life-altering decisions, some worse than the others, but when the time came to atone for them indeed, he did. And atonement meant understanding, apologizing, and working towards tangible changes. Throughout the show’s run, he was one of its most vital assets as a complex character who’d be remembered for his imperfections, as well as his noble self-awareness, kindness, and steadfast loyalty.
Killian Jones is tremendously flawed, but he tried more than most characters on the show. He certainly tried more than any of the other “villains.” In the same way that the season made matters messier by focusing too much on drama instead of character development, Killian’s character suffered at the hands of those decisions. Some moments, in short, are questionable. Still, for the most part, he’s one of the best parts of the series, and he’ll always be. His relationship with Emma Swan remains a beautiful rarity for network television, and his character development acutely looks into re-writing a villain’s destiny towards a happy ending.
Related Content: Relationship Deep Dive | Emma Swan and Killian Jones
It’s also worth mentioning that Colin O’Donoghue’s performances throughout the show’s run have allowed the character’s journey to feel that much more earned. When writing on the page didn’t sell his journey enough, O’Donoghue’s performances always did the trick, amplifying the words on the page with a full range of emotions and heart every time. O’Donoghue undoubtedly understood and cared for Killian’s journey, making every scene much more rewarding for a viewer.