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The Longmire Character Who Changed Everything

A good hero is defined by their villains: Batman has the Joker, Sherlock Holmes has James Moriarty, and Walt Longmire has Jacob Nighthorse, his best enemy. The two have hated each other since the pilot episode, with Walt convinced that the seemingly legitimate businessman had something to do with the death of his wife and the murder of one of his deputies. Yet Nighthorse is far more than just a scheming villain, and over the course of "Longmire," we come to realize that Nighthorse — while a deeply flawed individual — may well be one of the series' most nuanced and complex characters. 

At once a seemingly cold, calculating villain, beneath the scheming and the plotting is a man who does legitimately care about his tribe, the Cheyenne. The problem is he thinks he's the only one who knows what's best for them. It's the conflict between these two opposing forces within Jacob Nighthorse that makes him a force to be reckoned with in Absaroka County, and a continual source of grief for Sheriff Longmire throughout the show's seven-season run.

Nighthorse is a wild card

Surprisingly, the character of Jacob Nighthorse did not originate in Craig Johnson's popular series of "Longmire" mystery novels; he is a wholly original creation of the television adaptation. Since his introduction in the pilot episode, Nighthorse has been a wild card, fitting for a man who owns a casino. He acts as an enemy to Walt and the Sheriff's department one moment, accusing them of all manner of racism and incompetence, but he'll also testify on Walt's behalf or even support Walt's daughter Cady in her bid to become a lawyer for the tribe. He's a man who wants to do the right thing, mostly. 

The issue is that only he believes he knows exactly what the right thing is — something that his rival Henry Standing Bear points out. As far as Henry is concerned, Jacob is little better than the U.S. government, making arbitrary decisions for his people without consulting them. Nowhere is this more evident than the completion of the Four Arrows Casino: Jacob would rather invest the money gained for the tribe in infrastructure and public works for the reservation than hand it over to the individual residents.

He can be a complicated man

While he's a corrupt corporate executive of the highest caliber who is involved in numerous shady operations within Absaroka County, Nighthorse does possess some standards. When it's revealed there's a scam being run by corrupt social workers to remove Cheyenne children on falsified neglect charges and take them from their homes in order to embezzle money, he is disgusted. It doesn't stop him from using the knowledge of this scandal as a political weapon against Walt, but it does illustrate there are some depths to which even Nighthorse won't sink. 

Although he's an enemy of Wyoming state and tribal law enforcement officials alike, he's still someone who holds to something approximating a code, even if it's an extremely fluid one. It's a tribute to A Martinez's acting skill that he can portray a character at once so thoroughly unlikeable, yet one whose motivations and goals are understandable. It's what makes the character such a force to be reckoned with and one whose impact on "Longmire" cannot be understated.