The enigmatic "man" that serves as the antagonist of Blood Meridian. He stands out among the cast for his unusual physical features
, his extensive knowledge of the world
, his fondness of bloodshed and death
and his curiously eloquent soliloquies on human nature.
- The Ace: The man does everything perfectly. He's always perfectly composed and never seems to be troubled or hindered by anything. This all goes toward implying his supernatural nature.
- The Ageless: When the Kid meets the Judge again after three decades have passed, the Judge doesn't look a day older. In the final passage of the novel, the Judge says he will never die.
- Ambiguously Human: He has the general outline of a man, but it's never made clear if he actually is. He can apparently be in more than a single place at once, and he's unnaturally tall, strong, resilient with an uncanny intelligence and eloquence, he never sleeps and never ages.
- Bad Ass Bookworm: In addition to be cultured, he's strong and resilient.
- Bald of Evil: Notable in that he's completely bald. He doesn't have a single follicle of hair on his body.
- Big Bad: Not apparent at first but he gradually fills this role over the course of the novel.
- Blood Knight: A very philosophical one.
- Depraved Bisexual: It's implied but never explicitly stated that he periodically molests children wherever the Gang goes. One possible interpretation of the highly ambiguous and open-ended ending is that he rapes the Kid.
- Dragon-in-Chief: Glanton is the official leader of the gang but Holden is the one pulling the strings.
- Even Evil Has Standards: He most certainly doesn't, but many of his companions in the Glanton gang think he goes too far a lot of the time, are disturbed by his philosophy on war, or just think he's crazy.
- The Evil Genius: He's implausibly knowledgeable and crafty for someone that's traveling with a gang of illiterate murderers.
- Evil Is Petty: So much so that he buys a couple of puppies just to throw them off the bridge and shoot them.
- Fat Bastard: He's massively overweight, and is a corrupting force within the already evil Glanton Gang.
- Faux Affably Evil: Judge Holden is often an eloquent gentleman, who takes off his hat for ladies and whores alike. It's implied that any kindness or charity coming from the judge is to facilitate future depravity or simply to amuse himself.
- Flanderization: The first documented reference in Chamberlain's My Confession to Judge Holden refers to him as "hairless". What Chamberlain meant was that he didn't have any facial hair, whereas McCarthy took it entirely literally.
- Genius Bruiser: Intelligent and well-spoken as he is, he's also strong enough to break a man's arm with zero effort.
- Hannibal Lecture: He's quite fond of these.
- Hero Killer: While it would be a stretch to call any of the members of the Glanton gang "heroes," it's certain that the Judge caused the deaths of Toadvine, Brown and the Kid. That last one might be subject to debate given the nature of the ending.
- Historical Domain Character: Maybe. There is only one documented reference to the Judge as part of the Glanton gang, Samuel Chamberlain's My Confession (which served as a source for McCarthy's research), and the novel sticks closely to that work's description.
- Holy Burns Evil: Averted. Tobin takes a pair of bones in the boneyard and ties them together in the shape of a cross to try and ward him off, but it does nothing to stop him. The reason why is unclear.
- Humanoid Abomination: Whether the Judge is merely an extremely unusual man or this is never made clear.
- Impossible Genius: Holden creates gunpowder out of basalt and urine at one point.
- Implacable Man: It becomes apparent that he is this near the end of the book when he starts chasing the Kid and Tobin. This trope is seemingly averted when the Kid escapes and goes on with his life. It comes back in full, terrifying force when the Judge reappears decades later and confronts the Kid at a saloon.
- Karma Houdini: He gets away with pressuring the gang into numerous depravities, which leads to their inevitable end, and probably did something unspeakable at the very end. It's justified, given his nature as the personification of human evil that never sleeps and will never die. Though the epilogue gives the impression that the collapse of civilization that he's been yearning for might be either delayed or never come into fruition.
- Lack of Empathy: Death and suffering are nothing if necessities to him. War is first and foremost in the Judge's mind.
- Large and in Charge: Not nominally the gang's leader, but very large and the one who's really running the show.
- Lightning Bruiser: Weaves through bloodshed with unlikely agility.
- Moral Event Horizon: In-Universe, he crosses it with his "war is God" speech. After that, Tobin wants nothing to do with him, and attempts a Faustian Rebellion.
- Nightmare Fuel Station Attendant: He is the ferryman to some of the darkest passages, events and statements of the book.
- Omnidisciplinary Scientist: Holden is extremely knowledgeable of many fields, which raises the question as to why he's traveling with a gang of illiterate, loutish marauders.
- Only Sane Man: "Sane" is entirely the wrong word for him, as he still gleefully butchers humans and animals alike for fun. But compared to the hot-headed Glanton and the impulsive Davey Brown, he's far more intelligent and usually manages to keep his head cool. It's just one more trait that adds to his utter inhumanity.
- Pædo Hunt: He rapes children of both genders during the gang's adventures, although it's possible this is a subverted trope if we're to assume that it was the kid who was preying on the children instead.
- The Philosopher: He spends a lot of time musing on questions like whether objective morality exists and whether people are responsible for their own actions.
- "The Reason You Suck" Speech: He calls out the Kid on his self-righteousness and insistence that he's somehow any better than the other members of the Glanton gang. The Kid doesn't put up much of an argument.
- Satanic Archetype: He has a dizzying array of knowledge and skill, makes sermon-like speeches about worshipping war as God, makes gunpowder in one scene in a manner which alludes to Satan doing the same in Paradise Lost, and towards the end, when it's suggested that some unknown entity controls all human actions, The Judge remarks "I know him well".
- Sesquipedalian Loquaciousness: Sometimes it's just a matter of the Judge having command of an exceptional vocabulary and knowing exactly the words to say what he wants. Others, though, he likes to dazzle people into submission with verbiage that's longer than it has any good reason to be.
- Shadow Archetype: To the Kid. Notably, the two never speak until the last few chapters, and it's implied that he embodies the Kid's characteristics that he finds revolting and tries to shun. In the end, the Kid rebels against him alongside Toadvine and Tobin, rejecting his inner depravity.
- The Social Darwinist: Holds steadfastly to this philosophy. He believes that the world is only meant for the cruelest and most heinous, and that there's no room for the weak and compassionate.
- The Sociopath: While possessing hallmarks of a distinguished gentleman and renaissance individual, The Judge is nevertheless explicitly linked to some of the worst vices in humanity, a lot of which he gladly indulges into and encourages others into digging in. Rape, murder, pedophilia, manipulation, the Judge is certainly a master of all. And unlike the Glanton Gang, who initially does it out of money and later compulsion, the Judge does it simply because he likes it. Even with his diverging perspective, his immorality knows no bounds.
- To Create a Playground for Evil: His end goal is to become "suzerain of the earth", wherein he would rule a world where barbarity is the norm and any display of morality is snuffed out and the weak and frail are culled, and infants left to fend against wolves.
- Token Evil Teammate: The Glanton Gang is already a gallery of some of the most depraved monsters to walk the earth. That the Judge is the worst of them (and actually goads them into some of their worst acts) should speak for itself.
- Villain with Good Publicity: He is a great favorite among anyone he comes across. After the revival disaster, the horror people felt at the (wrong) lynching of Reverend Green instigated by Holden himself instantly turns into camaraderie after he explains what happened and how they have destroyed an innocent life.
- Warhawk: His obsession and joy is to instigate as much conflict, quarrels and violence into any life as possible. His suggestions and his whispering into John Joel Glanton at any opportunity to wreak havoc, destruction and war onto "heathens" is what drags the entire posse into new depths of depravity as the novel goes by.
- War Is Glorious: Holden is of the opinion that war is integral to human nature. He ominously muses about it at one point near the end of the book.
This is the nature of war, whose stake is at once the game and the authority and the justification. Seen so, war is the truest form of divination. It is the testing of one's will and the will of another within that larger will which because it binds them is therefore forced to select. War is the ultimate game because war is at last a forcing of the unity of existence. War is god.
- Wicked Cultured: Very learned; very awful. In one stand-out example, the expriest Tobin describes the judge's firearm of choice:
He had with him that selfsame rifle you see with him now, all mounted in german silver and the name that he'd give it set with silver wire under the checkpiece in latin: Et In Arcadia Ego
. A reference to the lethal in it. Common enough for a man to name his gun
. I've heard Sweetlips and Hark From The Tombs and every sort of lady's name. His is the first and only ever I seen with an inscription from the classics.
- Worthy Opponent: He speaks of the Anasazi as such for being relatively advanced, whereas his companions would dismiss them as primitive inferiors on the basis of race alone.
- Would Hurt a Child: Children tend to go missing when the Judge is around, although it's possible this is subverted if we're to assume that it was really the Kid who was responsible instead.
The nameless protagonist of the novel. A young runaway from Tennessee, the book follows his travels with the Glanton gang and his interactions with the insidious Judge Holden.
- Ambiguously Evil: Though he is seen early on stabbing a bartender in the eye, he's never shown actively participating in the gang's attacks on Indian camps. He also seems to be one of the nicer members of the gang, helping out his companions while Holden and Glanton aren't looking. However, the ending leaves a lot open to interpretation, including the possibility that it was never Holden who was raping and murdering children, but rather, him.
- Anti-Hero: The Kid is a violent thug but is far better than the Judge and most of the Glanton Gang.
- The Atoner: Kind of. By the end, he doesn't show any guilt for anything he's done, but he seems to have grown weary of the violence he wrought, carrying a Bible with him as a symbol of needing peace and offering to escort an old woman back to civilization.
- Being Evil Sucks: Appears to be the stance he takes near the end of the book.
- Creepy Souvenir: Towards the end of the book, he buys Brown's necklace of ears after the death of the latter.
- Cruel and Unusual Death: Heavily implied to be what the judge did to him.
- Disproportionate Retribution: Early on, he kills a bartender gruesomely because he refused to pay him for sweeping the floor.
- Even Evil Has Standards: Even though he's a violent criminal, he's never specifically described as taking part in any of the gang's many atrocities. Additionally, he recognizes the Judge as an evil being and resists his influence. Maybe.
- Jerk with a Heart of Gold: By the standards of the Glanton Gang, at least. He puts a little more value on the well-being of his comrades than Glanton or the Judge would tolerate, despite still having a lot of violence brewing in his mind.
- No Name Given: He's always only referred to as the Kid, and later as the Man.
- Pet the Dog: Helps pull an arrow out of Davy Brown's leg, and hides a wounded Dick Shelby from Glanton. Granted, both are despicable scalp hunters, but it's a rare show of compassion for a morally ambiguous character like himself, especially in a setting like this.
- Sociopathic Hero: The Kid's the closest thing to a hero but while he's better than his companions, he's still a violent and vicious Jerkass.
- Teens Are Monsters: Even if he's better than his comrades, he's still a violent thug, prone to some pretty nasty Disproportionate Retribution.
- Then Let Me Be Evil: One interpretation of the ending is that he realizes that he simply cannot be good, and that evil is his destiny, so he rapes and murders the little girl from the saloon.
- Token Good Teammate: The closest thing the Glanton Gang has to one, barring Tobin. He's never depicted actively participating in their massacres, and does go out of his way to help out his fellow gang members when they're wounded.
- Took a Level in Badass: Towards the end of the book, after almost never being directly mentioned in many of the gang's massacres, he is shown to be a rather skilled sniper.
- Walking the Earth: Does this during the Time Skip.
John Joel Glanton
The titular leader of the Glanton gang. A violent criminal when he's first introduced, he's gradually pressured by the Judge to act upon his increasingly savage whims.
- Asshole Victim: Even before the Judge joined his gang, Glanton was a horrible person. As such, his gruesome fate at the hands of the Yuma leader is well-deserved.
- Ax-Crazy: So much so that it takes Holden to stop him from killing a fortuneteller in rage. On top of that, Tobin duly informs the Kid that he's a madman.
- Blood Knight: He's one of the more violent members of the gang and his depravity increases as the novel progresses.
- Big Bad Wannabe: He's the one directing the gang to commit heinous crimes but it quickly becomes apparent that the Judge is really the one in charge.
- Historical Domain Character: Glanton was a real person whose exploits were, if anything, even worse than what's depicted in the novel. Glanton appears as a villain in several other historical novels, including George MacDonald Fraser's Flashman and the Redskins and Larry McMurtry's Dead Man's Walk.
- The Leader: He's the official leader of the gang, although he serves mainly as a puppet to Holden.
- Off with His Head!: His head is "split at the thrapple."
- Psycho for Hire: His job description.
- Stupid Evil: Not initially, but more and more so until it gets most of the gang killed.
A long-haired desperado who the Kid meets early on. The two become friends and serve together in the Glanton gang.
- Affably Evil: He befriends the Kid over the course of the novel. Other than that, he's generally portrayed more sympathetically than the other members of the Glanton gang.
- Alas, Poor Villain: He's hanged alongside Brown. Being one of the more sympathetic members of the gang, his death comes across as rather sad.
- Barbarian Longhair: Described as having hair down to his shoulders.
- Ear Ache: He got his ears lopped at some point in the past.
- Even Evil Has Standards: He considers killing the Judge after seeing him scalp a child.
- Mark of Shame: Toadvine has the letters "HTF" branded on his head as to signify that he was caught stealing horses once.
- Wouldn't Hurt a Child: Implied. Although he participates in many a slaughter, he tries to shoot the Judge for scalping the child whose company he and the gang were enjoying the night before.
A former priest turned scalphunter. Still a religious man at heart, he opposes the Judge's violent philosophy at multiple intervals and is frequently at enmity with him.
- Affably Evil: Like Toadvine, he befriends the Kid and serves as a father figure of sorts to him.
- Badass Preacher: A seasoned scalp hunter and a former novitiate.
- Faustian Rebellion: Despite his and the gang's pact with the Judge, he eventually turns on him and tries to persuade the Kid to kill him, but fails.
- Lampshade Hanging: While telling the tale of the earlier days of the Glanton gang, mentions the judge smiling "that smile of his".
- Properly Paranoid: Tobin is openly distrustful of the Judge. This suspicion proves to be well-founded when the Judge attempts to murder him and the Kid.
- Token Good Teammate: Maybe. He's certainly not as sinister as the other gang members and he's the only member besides Toadvine shown actively challenging the Judge.
- Sinister Minister: Averted. In spite of having abandoned his priestly pursuits, he's still rather religious and is definitely one of the less evil members of the gang.
- Warrior Monk: Sort of. His religious convictions certainly make him somewhat of a stand-out in the gang.
- What Happened to the Mouse?: He disappears around San Diego late in the book, while seeking medical assistance for his neck wound. The Kid searches for him a while before giving up hope. His ultimate fate is unknown.
David "Davy" Brown
A particularly nasty member of the gang. Brown is a violent man who wears a necklace of Indian ears.
- Asshole Victim: Unlike Toadvine, you can't really feel sorry for him for being hanged when he was one of the most violent and petty gang members, barring Glanton and Holden.
- Ax-Crazy: Barring Glanton and the Judge, he's one of the most vicious members of the gang.
- Creepy Souvenir: Wears a necklace made of Indian ears.
- Even Evil Has Standards: Well, sort of. He objects to the Judge's sermon that war is God, referring to him as "crazy".
- Evil Is Petty: He tries to persuade a man to saw off the barrel of his ceremonial shotgun, and the man vehemently refuses. Eventually, he just does it himself, using the man's hacksaw. This move lands him in jail.
- Kick the Dog: Averted. He nearly kills a dog he sees in the ruins of a house, but Glanton of all people stops him to keep the dog for pragmatic reasons.
- Ungrateful Bastard: A jailer helps him escape, and he repays him with a bullet through the head.
The Idiot/James Robert Bell
A mentally challenged man that Holden keeps as a pet of sorts.
- Driven to Suicide: Tired of living life as a sideshow attraction, he tries to drown himself. Of course, the Judge won't allow this, as he "rescues" him from death and keeps him chained up like a dog.
One of the two John Jacksons, nicknamed "White" to distinguish him from his black counterpart.
- Asshole Victim: Maybe Black Jackson overreacted to his harassment, but he was still an exceptionally racist dick, and it's not especially sad to see his head get lopped off with a Bowie knife.
- Evil Is Petty: He refuses to sit next to Black Jackson just because he's black, holding him at gunpoint for refusing to move.
- Jerkass: Nobody in the Glanton Gang is particularly nice or tolerant, but he's especially petty and racist, to the point where he orders Black Jackson to move at gunpoint.
- Off with His Head!: How Black resolves his issues with him.
- One Steve Limit: Averted. Like his nemesis within the gang, he is also named "John Jackson".
- Politically Incorrect Villain: While the Glanton Gang as a whole could be considered this, they are at least willing to accept non-whites into their ranks. He, however, is not, and threatens Black's life just for sitting in his spot.
One of the two John Jackson, nicknamed "Black" to distinguish him from his white counterpart.
- Blasphemous Boast: While drunk during the gang's saloon rampage.
Jackson, pistols drawn, lurched into the street vowing to Shoot the ass off Jesus Christ, the longlegged white son of a bitch.
- Human Pincushion: Is still trying to tug the first Yuma arrow out of his chest when several more finish him off.
- One Steve Limit: Averted. Like his nemesis within the gang, he is also named "John Jackson".
- Scary Black Man: He's a scalp hunter. He's black. Even Davy Brown is scared of him. And he may or may not have molested and killed a little girl.
- Token Minority: Sort of. Apart from the Delaware mercenaries, he's the only notable gang member who isn't white.
- Would Hurt a Child: A child goes missing at one point, and he's suspiciously missing from the gang at the time. By the time he catches up with them, he's naked. The implications are rather disturbing, to say the least.
The Delaware Mercenaries
A group of bloodthirsty Delaware Indian mercenaries who joined the Glanton Gang somewhere along the line.
- Bears Are Bad News: One of them is carried off by a bear and never seen again.
- Psycho for Hire: They're among the most ruthless members of the gang, and at least one of them is depraved enough to murder babies.
- Would Hurt a Child: In a rather grisly scene, a Delaware mercenary bashes two infants' heads against a rock.