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Kreese's Most Important Character Moment On Cobra Kai

Now all grown up, "Karate Kid" staples Johnny Lawrence (William Zabka) and Daniel LaRusso (Ralph Macchio) live far different lives on "Cobra Kai" than they once did. Instead of giving in to the pettiness that their teenage selves allowed to consume them in the 1980s, they've shifted their focus to teaching a new generation of martial arts prodigies. In doing so, they've also instilled in them valuable life lessons with the hope that they won't make the same mistakes they did. On the other hand, longtime Cobra Kai dojo figurehead John Kreese (Martin Kove) has far different plans.

Kreese served as the main antagonist of the "Karate Kid" films before returning to the franchise at the tail end of "Cobra Kai" Season 1. Decades after giving Daniel and Johnny a hard time, going as far as nearly killing the latter, he quickly made it his mission to regain his status as the leader of Cobra Kai. Upon doing so, he wasted little time attempting to poison the minds of its students, reminding viewers of what made him such a despicable big screen villain. However, unlike his depiction at the movies, Kreese is far from a one-dimensional character on "Cobra Kai."

The Netflix series has devoted plenty of time to fleshing out the character of John Kreese in some fascinating ways throughout his multiple seasons in the spotlight — even having him make some pretty big mistakes. This moment, in particular, is especially important to his modern, multi-faceted characterization.

The fight with Captain George Turner was a defining moment for Kreese

"The Karate Kid" and its sequels don't dive too deep into John Kreese as a person. They present him as an outright ruthless bully with a blinding desire to achieve victory by any means necessary. Thankfully, for those eager to learn more about him, "Cobra Kai" supplied viewers with a string of flashbacks to his youth when he served in the United States military during the Vietnam War. Under the command of Captain George Turner (Terry Serpico), we see his slow descent into the cold, calloused man he'd become by the time of the "Karate Kid" films and later "Cobra Kai."

This transformation reaches its completion when Kreese (played in these flashbacks by Barrett Carnahan), Turner, and several of their fellow soldiers end up captured by enemy soldiers. Forced into a battle to the death over a snake pit, Turner doesn't hesitate to attack Kreese, remind him of the value of violence, and how connecting with his humanity makes him weak. This prodding, coupled with Turner's smug revelation that Kreese's girlfriend, Betsy (Emily Marie Palmer), had died, prompted the latter to send his superior off to his death without a second thought — despite the timely arrival of US reinforcements.

The flashbacks to Kreese's time in Vietnam left Cobra Kai fans divided

By the end of his fight with Captain Turner, the true John Kreese was born. He cut off his emotions and showed his enemy no mercy, embracing the sadistic lessons Turner had worked so hard to teach him. Not to mention, he allowed his love for Betsy to initially get the best of him and throw him off his game — something he'd berate Johnny Lawrence for following his loss to Daniel LaRusso at the 1984 All Valley Karate Tournament. The scene hit all the beats necessary to explain why Kreese is the way he is, yet it and the other Vietnam flashbacks proved somewhat divisive among "Cobra Kai" fans.

"It makes him more relatable and human, but when you cut the actual show, he's a monsters. I felt like it was a little too contradictory," wrote Redditor u/The_Song_Of_History in a thread asking if "Cobra Kai" fans want more Kreese-centric flashbacks. Others shared in their disinterest in these sequences, with some feeling they slowed the story down without contributing to the larger narrative. At the same time, some viewers, like u/chronic_the_ghost, liked what they had to offer, commenting, "I absolutely loved the flashbacks and thought it was a great way to explain why Kreese became the man he is."

Regardless of where you stand when it comes to the John Kreese flashbacks, there's no denying their importance to his character. Specifically, his duel with Captain Turner went a long way in explaining how he went from a fairly average person to the cold-blooded, merciless man he's recognized as today.