It is certainly a bittersweet time for fans of The Shield. Dean Ambrose is reportedly leaving WWE soon, and The Shield are going their separate ways, but Roman Reigns is back, he’s healthy, and Seth Rollins has got a WrestleMania main event to prepare for. In my opinion, the stories of all three Shield members have been some of the greatest character arcs in pro-wrestling history. However, Dean’s heel and subsequent face turns have been met with criticism, from fans who argue that they didn’t make any sense. These views are certainly understandable, when you remember Dean’s strange promos about his “moral compass”, the bizarre ‘germaphobe’ gimmick that came out of nowhere, and the short period of time before he reunited with the brothers he betrayed. However, after deciding to look deeper into Dean’s past and mindset, I have a theory as to why he REALLY turned, and why it actually made perfect sense. To me, Dean’s rapid change in mindset occurred over the course of three distinct stages – emotional insecurity, psychotic self-defence, and ultimate realisation.
We already know that Dean Ambrose is a loner at heart. We’ve always been told that since he was young, he has always done things his way, and that he usually doesn’t play well with others. Behind-the-scenes shows like ‘Total Divas’ and Dean’s ‘WWE Chronicle’ on the WWE Network suggest that to some extent, the ‘Lunatic Fringe’ gimmick reflects the real-life Jonathan Good’s personality. However, before he made it to the WWE, Good’s gimmick was ‘The Lunatic Fringe’ turned up to eleven, when Dean Ambrose was known as Jon Moxley. Moxley was more unhinged than Ambrose has ever been, and was often completely devoid of any kind of affection. I see this past ‘life’ as a crucial factor in Dean’s decision to turn heel, even a full decade later.
Over the course of Ambrose’s run with The Shield, we actually saw him form a strong connection with two men that he genuinely called his “brothers”. This would’ve been a new experience for Dean, and although he enjoyed a huge amount of success as part of the faction, it also led to some of his lowest points emotionally. For example, he was visibly distraught when Seth Rollins originally turned his back on The Shield in 2014, and actually allowed that one moment to consume him for months afterwards; a far cry from the cold-blooded, almost deranged Jon Moxley character that he once embodied. Even over a year after Ambrose and Reigns eventually forgave Seth, this moment was used by Dolph Ziggler to provoke Dean, in an attempt to cause friction and to create doubt as to whether he could really trust his Shield brothers. Ziggler trying to play on some sort of perceived mental vulnerability would also have been a new experience for Dean, and something that he would never have been susceptible to in the past.
Furthermore, the recent announcement of Roman Reigns’ leukemia was yet another heartbreaking moment for Dean, and I believe that this moment was the final straw for him. Because Dean was not really used to this level of emotional attachment before joining The Shield, I think the Roman announcement hit him particularly hard. When Seth and Dean came out to hug Roman on the stage that night, we saw Seth in tears, but Dean was once again trying to hold his emotions in, and for me, this was a far more worrying reaction to it. These tough emotional experiences would explain why, after turning heel, Dean said that The Shield “made him weak”, because he blamed himself for allowing his emotions to take control of him, which is something he had always prided himself on being able to avoid. So, why did Dean decide to turn to the dark side on that exact same night?
In the main event of that show, Seth and Dean won the RAW tag team titles. When the bell rang and the Shield music played, Dean could see himself getting sucked into the emotion of winning with his brother once more, and it was at that moment that he decided to protect himself from ever being struck down by sentiment again. The problem was, the only way to protect himself from letting his emotions control him, was to cut those emotional connections off completely. This is why he seemed so angry at himself during his beatdown of Seth, as he was shouting, covering his face and punching the mat. He reacted like this because deep down, he still cared about Seth and Roman, but he knew that the bizarre mental ‘fortitude’ he had when he was a loner had been compromised by his new found love for his brothers, and he couldn’t let that continue. In other words, although he secretly hated himself for doing it, he knew that this was the only way for him to return to who Dean Ambrose truly is, by allowing himself to re-discover Jon Moxley.
However, contrary to what some people would’ve wished for, Ambrose’s heel run was nothing like Jon Moxley. It took a while for Dean to reveal why he attacked Seth, but when he did, he made excuses about Seth not being deserving of anything, using ambiguous phrases like “the moral compass of WWE”, and he even said some callous things like “Roman has to answer to the man upstairs” to hide his true motives, which I believe were based on severe insecurity. In addition, the controversial ‘germaphobe’ characteristics that he began to display were heavily criticised for not making any sense, but in my opinion, they were the result of his fragile psychological state at that time. Dean’s attempts to isolate himself from contact with members of the WWE Universe can be linked to this fear of mental corruption, because in Dean’s mind, he was protecting himself from being infected by outside factors, which he saw as similar to catching a mental ‘disease’. It was at this point that Dean’s psychological state was in complete turmoil, as he tried to convince himself and everyone else that he didn’t need anyone, as long as his mind was pure.
Eventually, things began to turn around, and Dean was pulled out of this mental entanglement, by the exact same person that originally triggered it. When a triumphant Roman Reigns returned, he cut a promo thanking everyone for their prayers and support, and making it clear that without everyone standing behind him, he might never have been able to fight cancer off again. When Dean saw how these ‘outside factors’ had given Roman the confidence to fight and beat leukemia again, he began to realise that by allowing a few distressing occurrences to segregate him from the outside world, he was only making things worse for himself. He finally realised that strong bonds and sentimental relationships are more important than complete mental ‘clarity’, and that although emotional setbacks can be extremely tough on the heart and the mind, they can only make you stronger in the long run.
This theory is likely to be nothing to do with what WWE actually intended, and admittedly I can’t defend the goofy giant needles or the hugely disappointing payoff match, but I am certainly glad that this heel turn happened, because I will always see it as Dean’s journey to learn the true value of his relationship with his brothers.