This post contains spoilers for “Five Nights at Freddy’s.”
Matthew Lillard is a horror legend and we don’t say it enough. We know him and we love him from films like “She’s All That,” “SLC Punk,” “Without a Paddle” … any “Love’s Labour’s Lost” fans out there? But the man got his start in horror (“Ghoulies III,” “Serial Mom”) and his irrepressible comic spirit and fearless willingness to switch to pitch-black menace on a dime have made him an extremely effective and underrated horror star, as you can see in films like “Scream,” “Scooby Doo,” and “Thirteen Ghosts.”
Lillard has just added another glinting badge to his vest in the form of “Five Nights at Freddy’s.” We meet him as Steve Raglan, the career counselor that our hero, Mike Schmidt (Josh Hutcherson), is sent to after he beats up a dad in front of his son while on the job. Mike is a man of few words, so doesn’t exactly plead his case, leaving Raglan with no choice but to fire him … unless he wants to take Raglan up on an Exciting New Opportunity.
That opportunity sets up the main action of the film — Schmidt taking a job watching the defunct Freddy Fazbear’s Pizza for five nights, discovering the giant animatronic animal entertainers inside are possessed by the spirits (and bodies) of dead children, fighting for his little sister’s life, and discovering the true identity of his little brother’s kidnapper. To understand what role the mysterious and somewhat menacing Raglan has to do with all of this, you have to reckon with the big bad of the entire “Five Nights at Freddy’s” franchise — William Afton. So plug your nose, because we’re about to take a deep, deep dive into the William Afton lore.
Who is William Afton?
So. If you’re already a FNaF stan, you can skip this part. Actually, I don’t know why you’d be reading this, unless it’s to test my knowledge. In which case, be merciful. “Five Nights at Freddy’s” began as a simple point-and-click horror video game in 2014. Created by Scott Cawthon, the game was born from a long string of failures to get Christian-themed games off the ground. As pointed out by /Film’s resident FNaF expert, BJ Colangelo, “One game in particular, ‘Chipper & Sons Lumber Co.,’ drew a lot of criticism for a main character many felt looked like a creepy animatronic, an idea Cawthon eventually developed into ‘Five Nights at Freddy’s.'” Out of the Bible and into the pizzeria, or however the saying goes.
That game quickly rocketed to success thanks largely to exposure from YouTube Let’s Players Mark “Markiplier” Fischbach and Matthew “MatPat” Patrick. So spawned a sprawling franchise consisting of even more video games, spinoffs, the “Fazbear Fanverse,” music, dozens of books, and now this. Steve Raglan actually doesn’t show up in any “Five Nights at Freddy’s” games or side projects, whereas Afton — who is fond of aliases, by the way — appears in nearly every one. As you might imagine, the lore around him is particularly dense.
To put it simply, William Afton is the co-founder of Freddy Fazbear’s Pizza, a Chuck E. Cheese-type pizzeria featuring giant, singing animatronics. Freddy’s closed after just a few years in operation following a tragedy known as the Missing Children Incident. This is the event that established Afton as the series’ ultimate villain: a child killer of epic scope and brutality who shifts form, easily eludes capture, and is always lurking in the shadows.
The lore deepens
Afton’s story began in the early 1980s. Alongside his best friend and business partner, Henry Emily, he opened a restaurant called Fredbear’s Family Diner. By some tellings, the sister location Circus Baby’s Pizza World opened first, but if we’re going by the core “Freddy’s” games, it was Fredbear’s first and Freddy Fazbear’s Pizza second. Fazbear’s is where most of the franchise’s action takes place, including the “Five Nights at Freddy’s” movie. Emily built the main animatronics that provided the entertainment, and Afton handled the business side. The business being slaughter.
It’s revealed in “Five Nights at Freddy’s 2” that Afton’s first victim was Charlotte Emily, Henry’s daughter. Her body was discovered by the terrifying slenderclown animatronic called The Puppet, into whom her soul was transferred, becoming the first possessed robot in the franchise’s timeline (though not in its gameplay). Afton seemingly always had a sick penchant for harming children, and murdering Emily awoke a bloodlust so vicious that he began using the animatronics as a way of both covering up and facilitating his crimes.
At Fazbear’s, Afton began spiriting into the Spring Bonnie suit, a yellow, gnarled version of Bonnie. By this point, all the other animatronics were merely that — Chuck E. Cheese-esque robots who played the same corny rock song on loop. But one June night in an unspecified year in the ’80s (probably 1985), Afton lured five children to a backroom at Freddy’s and murdered them. He hid their bodies inside Foxy, Chica, Bonnie, Freddy, and Golden Freddy to avoid being caught, but their lost and vengeful spirits sank into the central processors, becoming the proverbial ghosts in the machine. This event, the so-called Missing Children Incident, made Freddy’s into the haunt-infested murder pit we know and love today.
The many deaths of William Afton
After Freddy Fazbear’s Pizza closed in 1985, it reopened in 1987 where, following in the footsteps of the film and first game’s protagonist, Mike Schmidt, Afton got a job as a security guard (under the alias Dave Miller). He immediately killed five more children, instigating a series of events that led to something called “The Bite of ’87.” A “new animatronic” — either Toy Chica or something called The Mangle — took a bite out of a man’s brain, and the man lived. Needless to say it wasn’t great PR for Fazbear Entertainment, and the whole enterprise shut down for good.
Years later, Afton revisited the condemned restaurant to destroy the evidence of his crimes, a.k.a. the animatronics. This presented the ghost children robots with an opportunity to kill their killer. They attempted to do so, but Afton did the job for them when he retreated into his trusty Spring Bonnie suit and was impaled all over his body by the spring locks. This was actually the worst thing that could have happened, because Afton’s restless soul essentially transformed Spring Bonnie into an immortal monster called Springtrap.
Eventually, Springtrap was recovered by some college students and installed in a Halloween attraction called Fazbear’s Fright. Afton killed some more people there before it burnt to the ground, with him inside. Somehow Afton’s dessicated soul rebuilt the charred and chiseled remnants of Springtrap into a new body, called Scraptrap. His old friend and business partner Henry Emily, and Michael Afton, his son (who might actually be Mike Schmidt — we don’t have time to get into it), then lured Scraptrap to a fake restaurant which they set on fire, again, mostly killing him for good.
This doesn’t even get into the Fear Experiments, Circus Baby’s Pizza World, Afton’s daughter Elizabeth, Remnant … trust that if you want more lore, it’s there for the exploring.
Okay, but who is Steve Raglan?
You might be thinking, what the hell does any of this have to do with Matthew Lillard? Well, spoiler alert again, Steve Raglan is William Afton. We know by now that Afton loves an alias. He loves to play dress up, loves a comeback story. The “Five Nights at Freddy’s” movie was clearly made for a PG-13 audience (which is a good thing), so it’s pretty easy to read what’s going to happen from a mile away. When Mike first heads over to Fazbear’s, Raglan appears in a montage giving him instructions that more than indicate a dark side:
“This place was huge in the ’80s with kids. It’s been shut down for years. The only reason they haven’t given it the old wrecking ball treatment is the owner’s a bit of a … well he’s a sentimental guy, I guess. Just can’t bring himself to let it go yet. [Evil laugh].”
In the end, it’s revealed that it’s Afton who kidnapped Mike’s brother, Afton who’s the father of Mike’s cop friend Vanessa (Elizabeth Lail), and Afton who hired Mike in the first place, “Steve Raglan” is William Afton! He lumbers out in the Spring Bonnie suit but is eventually subdued and overtaken by his own creations, who finally understand who their true enemy is thanks to Mike’s little sister’s art (you just have to watch the movie). Afton shouts the catchprase he’s long had in the games — “I always come back!” — which doesn’t make a lot of sense without context, because how can a character we just met always do something we’ve never seen him do once? But it translates well enough into “I will probably be in a sequel!” And I know I’m not alone in hoping he will be.
“Five Nights at Freddy’s” is currently showing in theaters and on Peacock.