WWE: Seth Rollins, The Shield, and the Ghost of Dean Ambrose

WWE, Seth Rollins Photo: WWE.com
WWE, Seth Rollins Photo: WWE.com /

Seth Rollins’ appearance at WWE Royal Rumble 2020 added another layer to the long-term story of the Shield, and it reminded us of the “ghost” of Dean Ambrose.

Seth Rollins, the Architect. The Architect of what exactly?

The Architect of an illusion. An untouchable man who needs no one. Who loves no one. Seth Rollins is a manchild who never developed a moral compass and who does not know what he wants. If he’s the Architect™, why is everything around him constantly burning down?

Rollins debuted on the main roster at Survivors Series 2012, alongside Roman Reigns and Dean Ambrose, as a member of the Shield. For nearly two years the Shield would go on to be the most dominant stable WWE had ever seen, quickly becoming fan favorites. Their vague trappings of brotherhood and justice soon became concrete codes of honor and staples of storylines connected to various other groups in WWE.

On June 2, 2014, Rollins betrayed his found family for prestige. The Shield wasn’t in a tight spot. They weren’t being dominated. They weren’t losing. In fact, they’d defeated Evolution the night before at Payback in one of the most beautiful matches I’ve ever seen.

Rollins was not desperate. He was ambitious. He was not frightened. He was greedy. He traded honor for reward. He slammed a chair into the back of Roman Reigns and then repeatedly bashed it into Dean Ambrose, all for approval from – and opportunity brought by – Triple H.

When he lost the Authority, he tripped over being a good guy. He was the worst, but still fans missed him, and it was both delicious poetic justice and pitiful to see him rejected by the Authority upon his return from injury. He eventually saved his soul by facing his father figure, Triple H, at WrestleMania. In this way, he kept his prestige. He had at least one thing he could point to and say that he’d done good. he’d done right. He’d overcome injury after injury in such a short span of time. Impressive. Fans were glad to see him back. Fans were behind him. He was still in the main event picture regularly. He had a little bit of a soul and the support of the WWE universe.

But it didn’t really matter.

What did?

Dean Ambrose.

Dean Ambrose, who walked into the parking lot ne’er to return in April of 2019.

Seth Rollins is a man caught in the middle. Without Ambrose, Rollins cannot bear the measured honor and quiet honesty of Roman Reigns. So he can’t be the man he was with the Shield. Without Ambrose, Rollins has no one to fight. Without Ambrose, Rollins has no one to love.

Without Ambrose, he has nothing. At least in his mind.

"“In 2019, what is good enough for you people? What is good enough? Do I have to go in that ring and kill myself?” – Seth Rollins, Monday Night Raw, December 9, 2019"

Rollins has one of the most consistent and overarching characters in professional wrestling. He’s been the Future, he’s been the Man, he’s been the Aerialist. But he cut his teeth as the Architect. The claim that this meant he orchestrated the Shield, developed it, ran it, made the big decisions, and manipulated the crew to get what he wanted came AFTER the split.

That’s part of the Architect persona. Building a shadow around himself when he’s got nothing.

Enter AOP. The in between. They came to us in the tactical trappings of the Shield but they do Rollins’ bidding like J&J, his assigned bodyguards and babysitters in his Undisputed Future era.

They weren’t gifted to him so it’s a step above his Authority days. He won their allegiance all on his own. It’s a bit reflective of the Shield days. With them, he can play at being Triple H, a leader offering opportunity and status. He can play at being Roman Reigns, a man who doesn’t need to deliver orders, a man who can quietly stand between those who are sworn to him of their own accord.

"“I couldn’t help but hear your little story about doing things all by yourself. My question is: do you have a bad memory or are you just a liar? As far as I can remember you always needed help.”-Dean Ambrose, Smackdown, June 4th 2015"

Ambrose was the only person to ever tell Rollins exactly what he did wrong. Exactly what he wanted and needed from him. And exactly who Rollins COULD BE. It’s why Ambrose saved him during the apology tour of 2017, against his better judgement.

Seth Rollins can’t imagine a complete version of himself. But Dean Ambrose always could. Dean Ambrose knew Seth Rollins was a man who needed people and a man who lied to himself and everyone around him.

And he forgave him anyway. He protected him anyway. In fact, Ambrose could never stand the thought of anyone else punishing Rollins.

The only people left who know him are Roman Reigns, who is guardian and protector of the entire WWE universe, protecting himself and the roster as a whole from the kind of corruption that has always benefitted Rollins. In the destruction of the Shield, Reigns moved on to claiming the universe. He carried the honor and justice and dedication of the Shield into the solo picture. He was there if Ambrose needed him but was capable of fighting Ambrose when necessary without it becoming personal. Reigns brutalized Rollins if he got in the way, playing with his food more than necessary, but it didn’t consume him.

Rollins made a choice and Reigns moved on.

And who else knows remains that knows Seth Rollins and all of his vulnerabilities?

Bray Wyatt, more mythos than man as current vessel for The Fiend. He has known him from the beginning. Wyatts vs Shield dominated Raw, Smackdown, pay per views, and live shows for the better part of a year. Bray Wyatt courted Dean Ambrose to the point of Ambrose disappearing during matches. This caused tension. Ambrose and Reigns came to scraps and Rollins tried to calm it down. But it didn’t phase Dean’s morality. What did it do?

It triggered deep insecurities within Rollins enough that it may very well have been the nail in the coffin on the Shield’s brotherhood. Before confirmation that Rollins had abandoned the fans and the roster officially in 2019, to become his arrogant defense mechanism once again, Bray Wyatt tried to save him.

The Fiend tried to end him.

And Rollins snapped and burned the Firefly Fun House to the ground.

Last night at the Royal Rumble, we watched as Rollins was shown the difference between brotherhood and oligarchy. J&J were bullies for hire. Their sole motivation was protecting the crown prince of nastiness. But AOP and Buddy Murphy are men with their own agendas. Their dedication to Seth is based on strength and fight, not brotherhood, not heart.

So as they abandon him, in a tangible real way, just like Triple H and Stephanie McMahon did when he proved himself human and had to recuperate, he turns to the person who never abandoned him: Roman Reigns.

Rollins entered a Rumble of metaphorical consequences. The men he’d been tormenting, torturing, gloating over were all in that ring. Kevin Owens and Samoa Joe were the first victims of Rollins’ return to sadistic heroism in the last year and they entered just before him. Orton was a one time ally of a newly selfish Rollins and Edge is arguably the sexy predecessor to the moral bankruptcy crown.

But his former brother was in the ring, too.

Not the one desperate to save or end him. Dean Ambrose is far away.

But the one who takes quiet ownership of justice and hardwork. He was met with the reinvigorated and righteous men Samoa Joe and Kevin Owens, fresh wounds that he caused, but bigger than that he was met with Roman Reigns and Shield shades of grey.

But Rollins refuses to understand a middle ground or valor without reward. So he tries to invoke the fist bump of the Shield. Family and loyalty has an on and off switch.

This is a clear sign of his cowardice and insecurity because moments before he’d gone straight to taunting and hurting Reigns, as soon as he entered the ring. He’s not punishing Reigns over some recent lashing or making a point to do the worst thing possible. He’s punishing himself, he’s trying to reclaim a moral bankruptcy, to prove to himself that he doesn’t care about things or people outside of his own gain. Roman Reigns is a reflection of the man he could’ve been and he can’t stand it.

Just as Triple H sought to punish Daniel Bryan for being everything he never could, Seth Rollins sought to punish Roman Reigns for being everything he still could be, if only he were brave and true.

In Reigns’ quick dismissal of Rollins’ desperate and perhaps cruel offer of partnership, we can see the difference between J&J and the Shield, between the AOP & the Shield, between Buddy Murphy & the Shield. It’s crystal clear. Brotherhood is about honesty and vulnerability, for better or worse.

But Rollins can’t or won’t see that. He’s Narcissus gazing into his own reflection (more the reflection he wants than actually has) and the world is falling apart around him.

The legacy, the approval, the validation, and the dedication Rollins has always sought he found in the Shield but especially in Ambrose. Had it been Ambrose in the ring last night instead of Roman Reigns, the punches would’ve come much later. Ambrose’s dedication to saving Rollins, to believing in what people could be instead of what they are, his absolute chivalrous heart, would’ve struggled internally with any offer of partnership from Rollins, however fleeting. Throwing Rollins to the wolves would’ve felt like dishonor to Ambrose. More often than not he’d find it in himself to protect Rollins, if not out of reflexive affection then to make sure he could be the one to ruin him and do it one on one.

Before last night, Rollins had only ever been eliminated from the Royal Rumble by Roman Reigns, a delicious slice of symbolism for a Shield priestess such as myself.

Not this time.

There’s nothing left for Roman Reigns to save.

When Rollins entered the Royal Rumble last night, his transformation backward into the Future was complete. The same arrogant saunter, the same futuristic jumpsuit, the same Triple H spit take. It was like seeing a ghost.

But the real ghost in that Rumble and in Seth’s graceless plummet back to hell is Dean Ambrose. Despite his name being scrubbed from Top Ten lists and decade end coverage on WWE’s YouTube and main website, Dean Ambrose will haunt at the very least myself and Seth Rollins forever.

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It’s hard to be an Architect when you’ve no foundation to build on, when the pillars that once held you up have left you for good or quietly vowed to never smile upon you again.