Ethan Winters is the newest leading protagonist in the mainline "Resident Evil" series. He was introduced in "Resident Evil 7: Biohazard" back in 2017 and is also the leading man in Capcom’s most recent addition, the critically acclaimed "Resident Evil: Village."
Even with the leading role in two major titles under his belt, however, not much is known about him (aside from his tolerance for hand injuries). "Biohazard" begins with Ethan driving to Louisiana to find his missing wife Mia with no explanation about who he is or how he might be connected to anyone else in the "Resident Evil" universe. Small hints are dropped throughout the game, but many of them are easy to miss, and some things are never quite adequately explained.
For better or worse, Capcom has decided to keep many aspects of Ethan Winters’ life a mystery, seemingly in an effort to make him easier for the player to identify with. However, like all "Resident Evil" games, there are a few details which can be uncovered if you know where to look. (Spoilers ahead!)
Ethan’s life before RE7
You learn almost nothing about Ethan Winters’ early life in "Resident Evil 7: Biohazard" or "Resident Evil: Village." The leading man is simply dropped into the events of both games with little to no background information about who he is.
A guidebook called "BIOHAZARD 7 Resident Evil Kaitai Shinsho" was published by Enterbrain in partnership with Capcom and Famitsu. The Project Umbrella "Resident Evil" compendium has a translation which states that Ethan Winters is "A systems engineer residing in Los Angeles." The guidebook goes on to explain that "he has lived a very ordinary life and has no experience devoting to sports, but is blessed with more than average physical strength. As he’s embroiled in a mysterious incident, he will also display a high degree of adaptability."
Chris Redfield, Jill Valentine, Leon Kennedy, and a majority of the other protagonists in "Resident Evil" games all have some sort of police or military training, so it’s interesting that Ethan is one of the rare civilians to be given the reins. It does seem a little odd that a systems engineer would have the expertise to use and modify that many different kinds of weapons, though.
Ethan’s wife with a secret life
"Resident Evil 7: Biohazard" is set in 2017. Ethan explains at the beginning of the game that his wife Mia has been missing for three years, and he has no idea why. This is shortly after you watch two videos she sent him. The first is a video where she claims that she "cannot wait to be done with this babysitting job and come home to my loving husband." In the second video, she admits, "You were right. I did lie to you," and asks him to "stay away."
According to the Project Umbrella translation of "BIOHAZARD 7 Resident Evil Kaitai Shinsho," "Having worked at a trading company and frequently going on business trips to foreign countries, her relationship with Ethan was starting to become strained as she was often away from home for long periods of time."
You discover near the end of the game that this wasn’t actually the case but was, in fact, a cover that Mia used to hide her real job from her husband. She was actually an operative for an organization that developed the mold-based bioweapon E-001, aka Eveline.
Why don’t we ever see Ethan’s face?
The first three games in the series had fixed camera angles, while "Resident Evil 4," "5," 6," and the remakes of "Resident Evil 2" and "3" all utilized a third-person, over-the-shoulder, point of view. "Resident Evil 7: Biohazard" is the first "Resident Evil" game to feature first-person gameplay. Even most of the cutscenes are shot in this perspective.
What’s odd about this is that you never see Ethan’s face, even in the cutscenes where the camera shifts to a third-person POV. Even Capcom’s promotional material keeps his face shrouded in shadow. Many fans have speculated that Capcom’s decision to hide Ethan’s face is because they’re trying to hide a secret identity that will be revealed later, much like Booker from "Bioshock Infinite."
Capcom has been quiet about why they’ve made this decision, but producer Peter Fabino stated in issue 185 of PlayStation Official Magazine (via Game Informer) that the team "wanted to continue to have players experience the game through the eyes of protagonist Ethan Winters." This seems to indicate that they wanted him to serve more as an avatar for the player than as a character with his own face and personality. Consequently, this is most likely why so many find him to be the most forgettable protagonist in the series.
Ethan’s choice in RE7 is pointless
"Resident Evil" has never been a series based on choices and their consequences. That’s why it stands out so much when Ethan has to make a seemingly difficult choice near the end of "Resident Evil 7: Biohazard."
You only have one dose of your precious antidotes for the Mold after your final battle with Jack Baker forces you to use one in order to kill him. Both Mia Winters and Zoe Baker have been infected, so now you have to decide which of them to cure and which one you leave behind. Big decision, right? Eh, not so much.
It turns out the game really wants you to pick Mia. She is Ethan’s wife, after all, and the whole reason he came to Louisiana in the first place. Even Zoe seems surprised if you chose her. The game sort of "self-corrects" if you choose Zoe, though. She immediately dies on the boat ride away from the Baker house, and then the story picks up exactly how it would’ve if you’d chosen Mia. The only difference being whether or not Mia is still infected at the end of the game.
Even that comes to nothing, though. "Resident Evil: Village" does a recap of "RE7" at the beginning of the game which canonizes the ending where you save Mia and disregards the option to save Zoe.
Ethan uses a gun developed by Albert Wesker
The final battle in "Resident Evil 7: Biohazard" is against a giant, mutated version of Eveline which has consumed the entire Baker house. After a few minutes of pumping all your remaining ammunition into this giant mass of moldy architecture, Chris Redfield arrives on a helicopter and tosses you a handgun called the Albert-01. This weapon might appear a little underpowered at a glance, but Ethan quickly discovers that it’s super-effective against Eveline. That’s because even though the game never directly acknowledges it, the Albert-01 is actually a modified version of the Samurai Edge – AW Model-01 — a handgun that longtime series antagonist Albert Wesker developed specifically for use against bioweapons.
Wesker dies at the end of "Resident Evil 5" after being shot with two RPGs while simultaneously drowning in a pool of lava (subtle, we know) and therefore doesn’t make an appearance in "Resident Evil 7: Biohazard" or "Resident Evil: Village." It’s still cool to see his weapon make an appearance in Ethan’s hands, though.