What the Names of Into the Badlands Tell Us About Their Journey

One of the most nuanced shows on television, Into the Badlands is a homage to old fashioned epic storytelling.  Every choice drives the story forward.  Based on the 16th-century Chinese novel Journey to the West it is a brilliant example of art on television.  Even the names have profound meaning.

Courtesy of AMC

As Into the Badlands heats up I was struck by the complexity of the writing.  This is a symbolically rich, intelligent show that is as pretty to look at as it is smart.  It is with that lens that I re-watched the previous two episodes.  What stood out to me was the character names.  They are steeped in meaning and really help define the character archs.  Where they are coming from and where they are going to can all be hinted at from their names.  I took a deep dive into each of our major players to see what we can glean from their monikers.

Bajie-In the literal sense he is Zhu Bajie from the novel.  Described as a swine like looking character who was banished to earth after offending the Moon Goddess. He is given his name by a Buddhist Master who bestowed it as a way to remind him to stay on the righteous path and avoid the eight precepts.  Those being killing, stealing, sexual activity, lying, alcohol, overeating, oversleeping and entertainment(song and dance).  He is a capable fighter and has the gift.  Bajie is obviously having a tough time abstaining from these activities and actually seems to revel in committing as many of these sins as possible, sometimes simultaneously. The name Bajie means a gentle, thoughtful man with a big heart.  Instinctive and empathetic he feels the emotions and motivations of those around him even if you don’t always know how to intervene. 

A problem-solver who likes to enhance justice in the world.  Clever, charming and social Bajie is the life of the party and often the smartest one in the room. Many of these things apply to our Bajie who is a loyal friend(when it suits him) and a clever foe.  His ability to survive and suss out advantages makes him a strong ally to Sunny who is a linear thinker and struggles with out of the box thinking.  He is supremely bright and despite his penchant for self-preservation helps Sunny time and time again.  In the episodes to come, he will also prove his loyalty to M.K. who will need all the help he can get as he deals with the truth of his Mother’s death.

Sunny-He is obviously the light in the darkness of the Badlands.  The terrible deeds he has performed as Clipper in the past haunt him.  He is a rigid thinker who compartmentalizes his history as a way to maintain the black and white world view he has.  A man of conviction he is steadfastly loyal, to a fault sometimes as his time with Baron Quinn proved.  Modeled after Sun Wukong from the novel he is one of several people tasked with protecting Tang Sanzang.  Sanzang has not been specifically identified but it appears M.K. and Sunny are two halves of one character from the story and perhaps Sunny’s child Henry is the one to be protected.  He is loving and as a new father, he will protect his infant child at all costs.  He has a soft spot for M.K. and Bajie.  He was found as a child along the river banks by Waldo who took him in and trained him as a Clipper.  He may very well have the gift.

Sunny means cheerful, brilliant of the sun.  Disciplined, reserved and loyal Sunny is traditionally a female name.  Courageous and bold this person is altruistic.  Of traditionally English origin Sunny derived from Sun meaning of the Sun or heavens. Our Sunny is every bit the bright light he is named after.  He is blinding in his altruism and often has a hard time reconciling his actions with his beliefs.  At this point, his one and only motivation is protecting Henry.  This desire will force him to track down the Mad Witch for help.  His duality with M.K. who he previously thought of as a child to be protected will come into question as the truth of M.K.’s Mother’s death come to light.

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Nathaniel Moon-The New Regent for The Widow he is deadly and motivated by revenge, on Sunny and Bajie specifically.  He lost both his hand and his honor to Bajie and Sunny last season and will do anything to avenge that, even join forces with The Widow.  From the character in the novel Sha Wujing he has been recruited by The Widow and is a loyal and capable warrior.  He does not possess the gift.  He has a past romantic relationship with Lydia which will be exploited for her cooperation. Moon is traditionally a female name meaning of the month, which makes it interesting as it relates to his current allegiance with The Widow and her almost completely female fighting force called Butterflies.  It is also associated with night as that is when the moon is most easily seen.

Our Moon is haunted by his past and deeply lonely after the death of his wife and daughter.   The duality of Sunny to Moon is purposeful and highlights similar personal histories but complete differences in personality.  Moon is driven by blood lust and is blinded by that need.  His relationship with The Widow has provided him both the means and the resources to track down Sunny and Bajie and with the addition of his new hand, he is more powerful than ever.  He is the darkness to Sunny’s light.

Pilgrim-The easiest of all symbols represented in Into the Badlands.  His journey is indeed a pilgrimage for Azra or peace.  He is an intense leader verging on zealot.  His single-minded pursuit of peace as he sees it is only topped by his wife Cressida.  He has an unwavering loyalty to his adopted children Nix and Caster who both possess the gift.  A self-styled messiah with his cunning partner and two gifted warrior children he is a new and powerful force. The novel Journey To the West is a story about the pilgrimage to unite the three main Chinese religions Confucianism, Daoism and Buddhism. 

He is an amalgamation of several characters and is intent on delivering peace to the Badlands at all costs.  A pilgrim is a person who searches for enlightenment. Little is known about Pilgrim’s history but what has been shown of his current goal is frightening.  He has love for his two adopted children but is conflicted as his love for them does not supersede his need to use them as a weapon of war.  He is carefully aligned with Cressida and has a large following of parishioners.  

Cressida-She is cunning and very controlling.  As Pilgrim’s right hand and lover she is a partner in every way.  A self-titled prophetess it is unclear whether she actually possesses any future telling abilities.  She does have excellent political acumen and that serves Pilgrim very well. The name Cressida means gold and in Roman history, she betrayed her husband Troilus.  In Shakespearean text, Cressida is one of the most unreliable characters of all time.  She is enigmatic and wildly unpredictable.  She is loyal to no one but herself and prone to exaggeration and outright lies. Cressida of the Badlands is as intense, if not more so than her partner Pilgrim.  She is not above sacrifice for the end result.  That sacrifice comes in the form of her children or her own body.  She evidently has an incredible ability to withstand pain.

Nix and Caster-The children of Cressida and Pilgrim are vicious gifted warriors that provide the dominant fighting protection for the religious cult. In Greek history, Castor is the twin son of Zeus.  The zodiac sign Gemini has a star named after him.  Nix is also of Greek origin and means night.  Since both characters have the black-eyed gift and are twins of sorts these names are fitting.

M.K.-He is the second half to Sunny.  M.K. is an obvious reference to Monkey King, Sun Wukong.  He is a gifted and competent fighter but after watching his mother die and being left with The Widow who keeps him caged, he has become an opium addict and deep depressive.  He craves acceptance and love and thinks he found it at one time with Sunny.  With his new revelation about Sunny’s hand in his Mother’s death and the way we left him last episode, it is unclear what his future holds.

In the novel, the monkey is born from a stone nourished by the five elements and slowly develops the maturity and discipline to master the art of Tao.  Among those abilities are animality, combat, and immortality.  Given the way the last episode ended this might very well come into play.M.K. is as much on a pilgrimage as The Pilgrim. His quest is to find himself and his power.  Under lock and key by The Widow who wishes to use his gift he is depressed and has lost his gift.  A brooding reluctant hero he is all young bluster and emotions.  His desire to have a parent figure in his life is his strongest driving force. 

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Tilda-The adopted daughter and former Regent to The Widow she has really come into her own.  In her new role as Iron Rabbit she is a force for justice.  A very strong moral compass has led her to this place and she uses her abilities to help Lydia provide for the refugee camp.  The fact that she is able to stick it to her Mother while doing so is icing on the cake.  A victim of sexual abuse at the hands of The Widows Baron she has suffered a lot but has persevered and become a gifted fighter as a result of The Widow’s tutelage.  She separated from The Widow after a vicious battle at the end of season two and she is aligned with Odessa and M.K..  She also has an affinity for Sunny and Bajie.  Her guilt over Veil, Sunny’s lover’s death is a guiding force this season.

Of German descent, this name means strength in battle.  A shortened version of Matilda, Maht meaning mighty and Hild meaning battle.  There are no biblical references to this name but there was a Saint Matilda, wife to King Henry I.  With The Iron Rabbits’ current profession it is not a far cry to assume she could be nearing sainthood in the future.  

Lydia-She is a true survivor and the former wife to Baron Quinn.  Her father was a deeply religious man and that spirituality colors her view of the world while not completely controlling it.  Her strong sense of right and wrong is tested by her instinct to survive.  Her refugee camp was built out of a need to help and her guilt over her time with the Baron.  She is loyal to Sunny to a point. 

Her past relationship with Moon will put her in conflict with Sunny and may force her to align with The Widow out of necessity. From Greek and Arabic descent, this name means beautiful one or bending.  Both fit her character on the show.  From the Christian bible, she is the first European convert to Christianity.  Lydia is much smarter than most of the men in her life and uses her brains to deliver her from danger on many occasions.  Her love of power is her Achilles heel and it is this vulnerability that has gotten her in trouble in the past and will continue to do so with regard to The Widow and Regent Moon.

There are so many fascinating things to dissect about this gorgeous series.  With the most episodes ever this year I can’t wait to sink my teeth into the lore and the symbolism of this critically acclaimed show.  If you have missed any of our other coverage you can find it here.  As always check back Monday for my review. 

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