The Western

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.
"Westerns. A period gone by, the pioneer, the loner operating by himself, without benefit of society. It usually has something to do with some sort of vengeance; he takes care of the vengeance himself, doesn't call the police. Like Robin Hood. It's the last masculine frontier. Romantic myth. I guess, though it's hard to think about anything romantic today. In a Western you can think, Jesus, there was a time when man was alone, on horseback, out there where man hasn't spoiled the land yet."
Clint Eastwood, on the genre that helped shape his career.

Any story set in the American West during the frontier era—generally from about 1843, the year the Oregon Trail was completed, to 1890, the year the US Census Bureau declared the frontier closed; most often between the end of the American Civil War and 1890.

Perhaps surprisingly, the Western genre is Older Than They Think; in fact, it predates the classic Western era. It has its roots in the early 19th century novels of James Fenimore Cooper (set in the then-frontier, which was well east of the Mississippi at the time) and his imitators, as well as 19th century "dime novels"—meaning that, like the gangster films of The Thirties, the genre was originally pretty much contemporary with its source material. In fact no less a figure than Wild Bill Hickok was already a star in dozens of embellished stories by the time he died in 1876. By the turn of the century a lot of the stock Western tropes had already been established in popular imagination: see Western Characters.

Westerns made a very early leap to film with The Great Train Robbery in 1903, and remained popular throughout the next few decades, though their golden age truly arrived in the 1930s.

Enormously popular on TV and in the Movies in the 1950s and 1960s: Gunsmoke, Bonanza, Wagon Train, Rawhide, Branded, The Wild Wild West, Have Gun — Will Travel, The Rifleman, The Big Valley...

Some of the more recent successful TV examples were Grizzly Adams and Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman.

Common plotlines include a Cattle Drive, a Train Job, and a Bank Robbery.

There's a Wanted Poster on every wall and it's more savage the further south you go.

There's an important distinction between the "classic" Western (The Lone Ranger-type stuff) and the "revisionist" Western (High Noon, The Searchers, the Dollars trilogy, The Wild Bunch, McCabe and Mrs. Miller, Unforgiven). The former is shiny and heroic. The latter is Darker and Edgier, and often embodies a paradox: "Civilization can only be defended from barbarians by men with guns, but once you pick up a gun, you are a barbarian." In the 21st century, the distinction seems fuzzy, as most of the "best" (or at least, most fondly-remembered) Westerns are the revisionist ones—and therefore they are now seen as the core of the genre.

In recent decades the genre was only seen on TV in the form of its hybrid child the Space Western, but it is now enjoying something of a revival with the success of Deadwood in 2004. Two networks, according to the British Radio Times, have new series in development.

The Western is usually set on the American frontier, but sometimes go farther afield to places like Alaska (North to Alaska, The Far Country), Mexico (The Wild Bunch, Vera Cruz, The Professionals), and Australia (The Proposition, Quigley Down Under).

In terms of time, the genre's heyday (as stated above) is a 25-year span in the 19th century, but there are examples set earlier (Drums Along the Mohawk takes place at a time when upstate New York was frontier country) and later into the early 20th century (Sam Peckinpah's The Ballad of Cable Hogue ends with the title character getting hit by a car). For series that use Western tropes but are set in the modern day, see New Old West.

A subtrope of Period Piece. See also Western Characters and Spaghetti Western. Also a reason why most people believe All Deserts Have Cacti - the majority of Westerns were filmed at Kirk's Rock.

When a series that isn't The Western visits The Wild West or borrows heavily from its imagery for a story, it's a Cowboy Episode.

Western subgenres

Examples of The Western include:


  • The longest running and currently best selling Italian comic book, Tex Willer, is a Western. Published since 1948, and thus actually predating the Spaghetti Western movies, it preceded them in using some of their famous tropes, such as a good attitude towards (some) Indians: the titular character is a Texas Ranger and "the White chief of the Navajos", had a Navajo wife, and walks the Earth righting wrongs with his trusty Indian friend Tiger Jack, his son and Kit Carson.
  • Next Town Over, a steampunk western published on the web and in print.
  • Lucky Luke, an Affectionate Parody of the western genre from the francophone part of Europe.
  • Jonah Hex
  • Blueberry
  • Tumbleweeds, a long-running (1965-2007) Newspaper Comic strip by Tom Ryan.
  • Blaze Of Glory, a MARVEL miniseries that depicted the last stand of many of their Western heroes (Two Gun Kid, Ghost Rider, Rawhide Kid, etc.)
  • MARVEL's Rawhide Kid.
  • MARVEL's Two Gun Kid.
  • MARVEL's original Ghost Rider (the guy in the white outfit, not the gentleman with the fiery skull).
  • MARVEL's Red Wolf.



Live Action TV

Radio Drama

Tabletop RPG

Video Games

Western Animation

  • In an episode of Rocko's Modern Life, they follow the adventures of Bloaty the Tick and Squirmy the Ringworm (two parasites living on Spunky) as they go off to the "new frontier" (all the extra weight Spunky has gained). The (mis)adventure follows the setup of a Western; the new setting is a Wild West setting, and Bloaty and Squirmy become sheriffs who have to get rid of a gang of outlaw mosquitoes that have been terrorizing the town.
  • Quick Draw McGraw'