The Old Guard has become one the most popular movies to debut on Netflix, its success more than a little down to Charlize Theron’s portrayal of Andromache of Scythia, the leader of the titular band of immortal warriors who’s growing tired of her eternal life. Her sympathetic character is the core of the movie, but she may have proven less relatable with the knowledge that she was once a slaver.
In the second volume of the comic series on which the movie was based, Force Multiplied, the newest immortal, Nile, investigates the past of her millennia-old comrade, and is pointed in the right direction by Noriko (the drowned immortal the movie renamed Quynh to accommodate her Vietnamese actor), telling her to ask Andy about Law 282 of the Code of Hammurabi. This was a series of rules of accountability that dates back to Mesopotamia (part of the modern day Middle East) over 3,700 years ago, and 282 is the final of them, stating a punishment of an ear being cut off for slaves attempting to escape or defy their master in any way. There are multiple references to slavery throughout the text, none addressing the abhorrence of owning people, but instead relating it as a basic aspect of society and worded in such a manner that perceives such people as property, the rights regarding their lives instead residing with their owners.
When pressed, Andy admits her participation in the practice, and the news naturally does not sit well with the African American Nile and she calls Andy on it. Instead of apologizing for her past crimes, Andy simply states it’s how the world was all those thousands of years ago, explaining that she sold defeated marauders who came in search of rape and murder, and despite being well aware of slavery’s amorality, did so to provide her people with things they needed to survive, it being a more practical solution than simply executing the prisoners.
The Old Guard turned out not to be as action-oriented as we first thought, instead primarily dealing with how endless lives can become wearying as the sins of the past weigh heavily upon those who have been accumulating them for multiple centuries. While it’s a welcomely subdued perspective on a concept that could have easily been merely used to feature undying warriors engaging in unstoppable ass-kicking, it might have been a little too much to ask audiences to still be on Andy’s side after such a revelation.