Ghost of Samurai past.
We know him as John Wick, and soon, we’ll know Keanu Reeves as Johnny Silverhand as well. But while we’re all excited to see the beloved actor take on a major role in CD Projekt RED’s upcoming open world RPG opus Cyberpunk 2077, that’s far from the only reason we’re curious to see what role Johnny Silverhand will play in the game’s story. In the deep, rich lore of the Cyberpunk universe, Johnny Silverhand has been a magnetic and fascinating character for some time, and many of this property’s greatest stories have centered around him and his actions.
To see him play such a major role in Cyberpunk 2077 spells exciting things about the game- but for those not in the know, who exactly is he? What’s Johnny’s deal? Well, that’s exactly what we’re here to talk to you about, and hopefully, by the time we’re done, you’ll have a much better understanding of events that have transpired in his past to get him to where he’s going to be in the upcoming (hopefully) soon to be released game.
Though he’s known and loved across the world in the Cyberpunk universe as Johnny Silverhand, the rebellious musician wasn’t born with that name. Born in 1988 as Robert John Under, he had a tumultuous and eventful life in his earlier years as well. He enlisted in the United States military at a rather young age, and not long afterward, saw action in the field in the conflict that went on to be known as the Second Central American War.
It was a conflict that garnered some particularly ugly press, as conflicts obviously do. The United States military’s reasons for engaging in hostilities with various Central American nations were considered dubious by many, and the war itself was deemed unnecessary by a large number of people- which included many in the US military itself. That large number of people included Johnny himself, and like several other American soldiers, rather than fighting in a conflict he did not believe in, he chose to desert the military, even if that meant risking his own life.
Johnny returned to Night City, the place where he was born and lived before he had enlisted, and changed his name, adopting a new persona to keep his real identity a secret, so as to make sure that his desertion from the army was kept a secret from people that mattered. He began calling himself Johnny Silverhand, deriving his last name from the cybernetic arm he had to have installed to replace the one he’d lost in the conflict in Central America.
Not long afterward, Johnny Silverhand shot to fame- he chose to embody his rebellious nature and his anti-corporation and anti-government spirit through his music. His band, Samurai, was widely and fiercely beloved across the world, and the revolutionary nature of his message and his style turned him into a living legend among many. Even after Samurai split up and disbanded in 2008, Johnny Silverhand still remained a hugely popular figure.
Without Samurai at his back, Johnny decided to strike out on his own as a solo musician, hellbent on using his music to keep spreading and pushing his message. Given his massive popularity, he was sought after by many publishing labels, one of whom even threatened to reveal his real identity to the world and tell everyone that he was a deserter. In response, Johnny released an album through which he revealed all of those details himself, while also revealing the deeds of the military when he had been enlisted as a soldier.
Things, however, quickly changed for Johnny, and his world was turned upside down in the year 2013. At the time, he was in a relationship with the supremely talented programmer and netrunner Alt Cunningham, who was the developer of the Soulkiller program. The program, in simple terms, was capable of creating an exact replica of a netrunner’s mind, and then wiping out the original completely, leaving their body as nothing but an empty, lifeless husk. And what exactly was that important? Well, because the ever so shady corporation known as Arasaka wanted to get their hands on that technology.
In 2013, as Johnny and Cunningham were leaving a concert together, she was kidnapped by an Arasaka strike team, while Johnny himself was left for dead, with Arasaka intending to force Cunningham to recreate the Soulkiller program. Johnny, however, was never one to take things lying down. Deciding to make use of his military skills, he gathered a strike team of his own, and with the help of his former Samurai bandmates, he was able to infiltrate the Arasaka headquarters in Night City. He was too late, however, and Cunningham ended up becoming a victim of her own program- due to Arasaka’s actions, her mind was trapped in the Arasaka mainframe, and though her digital existence continued on, her body became a lifeless husk.
The incident left Johnny with a deep-seated hatred for the Arasaka Corporation, but most importantly, he became determined to find Cunningham once again. In the early 2020s, the Fourth Corporate War was in full swing, and Arasaka and Militech were locked in a full scale global conflict against each other. Johnny saw this as an opportunity to not only strike back against Arasaka, but also rescue Cunningham, and chose to enter the Arasaka Tower to lead an assault and end the war.
Things didn’t go well for him, though. Supposedly, he was gunned down by the loyal Arasaka soldier turned cyborg Adam Smasher- but with Militech destroying the tower with a nuke, his body was never found. In the years since then, even decades afterward, Johnny’s death has been a point of mystery and contention, with many believing that he’s still out there somewhere, and wondering what the true circumstances surrounding his death really were.
In Cyberpunk 2077, Johnny is going to have a major role to play, and will be a companion character of sorts for the protagonist V- though, of course, what his true motivations are and just how trustworthy he really remains to be seen. Though CDPR have shied away from giving any concrete details, it’s strongly implied that Johnny’s physical body is gone, so he is “dead” in the conventional sense of the word- but he will still be factoring into the story as what the developers call a “digital ghost”, which would suggest his mind, too, is trapped somwhere in the net, much like what happened to Cunningham.
The circumstances around his apparent death, how his beef with Arasaka will come into play, and exactly what his ultimate goal is in the story of Cyberpunk 2077 are all questions that we’re going to have to wait just a little bit longer to get the answers to. One thing’s for sure though- he’s an exciting wild card, and we can’t wait to see how things with him play out.