The Bloodline is one of the most successful storylines WWE has done in years.

The narrative has played a major role in the company’s financial turnaround and, more importantly, has elevated the character of Roman Reigns from failed babyface to a generational performer. While the storyline’s success cannot be disputed, the appeal is highly subjective. To its fans, the Bloodline Saga epitomizes what makes WWE great. To its detractors, it shines a bright line on everything wrong with professional wrestling. Somewhere between the glowing “cinema” reviews and complete rejection, one fact remains, this storyline will be looked at and examined for years.

In this extremely tribalistic environment, it’s difficult not to draw lines between the two major US companies and AEW specifically. All Elite critics will say the company doesn’t “tell stories.” That is a fallacy. But does WWE actually tell stories, or did they create a status quo that meets the needs of the fans reared by the company?

The famed scholar and author Robert McKee has spent a lifetime defining the 3-Act story structure that dominates Western storytelling. At its core, a story starts with a character who has a goal, and something is stopping them from preventing that goal. From there, an inciting incident propels the character into action. Multiple obstacles stand in their way before a midpoint twist forces them to re-evaluate their mission before the journey climaxes. The character either achieves their goal, or they do not. Regardless, they are fundamentally changed by the events.

Look at Star Wars.

Luke Skywalker dreams of adventure beyond the stars. However, his responsibilities at home prevent that from happening. After the deaths of his foster parents, Luke is sucked into the great Rebellion, where he chooses to follow the path of his late father, a legendary Jedi Knight if the evil Empire doesn’t stop him first.

But that can be broken down evil further: Luke Skywalker wants to rescue the mysterious Princess Leia from the evil Empire, but their dark lord, Darth Vader, is intent on keeping her.

Luke goes from an innocent farm boy to a budding warrior. The experience fundamentally changes him. Whether you enjoy his work or not, George Lucas was a student of Joseph Campbell. The same methods examined by Campbell and McKee are considered the standard approach in modern storytelling, specifically, the hero’s journey.

If we apply this same principle to The Bloodline, we find a different tale.

Roman Reigns was the company’s golden child who did everything the right way. He fought the good fight, towed the company line, and tried to pick up from the ultimate WWE hero, John Cena. For his efforts, he was rejected by the fanbase.

After facing death, Reigns fought his way back to the Championship, but he decided to play the game differently this time. By rejecting those early principles and embracing the tactics used by history’s less refutable Champions, Reigns created a power structure to keep him atop the landscape.

Like a mad king, Reigns clutches onto his powerbase by employing a series of nefarious characters and manipulates others working for him despite knowing better. Reigns is a man whose spirit was broken by the system he was trained to uphold.

Today he is insecure, demanding people acknowledge his greatness, and petty. Reigns is far from a hero, but he is the protagonist.

While all that might drive the narrative, it isn’t the story. The story is much simpler. Roman Reigns is desperate to stay champion. Standing his way is the entire WWE locker room. His quest for power leaves him bruised and paranoid. That’s it. That is the fundamental story.

Using these basic principles makes it easy to see how well the pro wrestling medium fits into the typical hero’s journey story structure. A wrestler wants to be champion/revenge/hates X person, and their opponent stands in their way. Every single wrestling match from the beginning can easily fit in that parameter. But why don’t they all create this level of investment from viewers?

The beats within the story, specifically the character beats, typically help shape a viewer’s level of interest. There is no perfect formula for why some character beats resonate, and others do not. While it’s easy to say, “the story, the story, the story,” it isn’t the plotline that’s appealing to fans. There’s a common phrase thrown around countless writing circles. “Plot is overrated.”

So many writers, especially young writers, have ideas for stories. However, when crafting those tales, they focus on the world, the mechanics, or the innovative beats of narrative. Where many of them lack, and where pro wrestling often struggles, is character. More often than not, it’s the people in the world, not the threads, that make a story. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings is renowned for its deep backstory and rich lore. However, it’s Frodo and his journey that makes the saga work. Seeing relatable characters struggle through conflict (story beats) typically appeals to audiences more than intricate plot details.

Pro wrestling is based on this simple structure. We watch people that we love and hate fight and bleed for us. It’s the individual and their personality that makes the story work. However, pro wrestling, WWE in particular, has often sacrificed creating characters with understandable goals and obstacles and substituted them for easy-to-digest caricatures. From the over-the-top occupational cartoons of the 90s to the masses of one-note gimmicks in NXT, the WWE often tries to shortcut generating emotional responses to characters.

This version of Roman Reigns is easy to understand. He was the promised son who failed to live up to expectations. Now there’s no end to the depths he’ll go to stay on top. It’s a classic villain archetype. To Joe Anoa’i’s credit, that’s exactly how he plays the character. The WWE, however, cannot just let subtly exist and feel the need to overdo every step.

The Bloodline clicks with its audience because it hits all of the emotional and story beats the WWE has trained its audience to believe matter. While the execution may isolate some traditional pro wrestling fans, the characters involved, from Jey Uso, Sami Zayn, Solo Sikoam, and even Cody Rhodes, have played relatable characters on Roman’s chessboard.

While it’s difficult to quantify why story and character beats work for certain fans (Stephen King is the most successful author of the late 20th and 21st century, but even his work doesn’t have universal appeal), by steering into fundamental, very human emotions, Roman Reigns has become of the most compelling characters on WWE TV in decades. But it’s not the story that appeals to fans. It’s the character.