Of all the things you might have expected from the third season of , there was one element that took many fans by surprise. After all, following the Season 2 finale, there was plenty to cover–, Johnny (William Zabka) being , and the aftermath of the . Still, Cobra Kai Season 3 managed to follow up on all of those story threads and include something unexpected: A deeper look at Sensei Kreese (Martin Kove), the villain of the first Karate Kid movie that then reappeared on the Netflix original series at the end of Season 1.
Warning: The following contains spoilers for Season 3 of Cobra Kai. If you haven’t seen the new episodes yet, what are you doing here? Go open the Netflix app and watch the third season now.
Cobra Kai has explored events from the past before, even, giving some hints at Johnny’s childhood before the first Karate Kid movie. However, there’s an entire subplot running through the new season to highlight the man Kreese was before founding Cobra Kai. We learn his humble origins as an awkward busboy at a diner, who ultimately finds himself enlisted in the Vietnam War. We then follow him throughout the war, reporting to a commanding officer that lives the “no mercy” lifestyle that would ultimately become the foundation of the Cobra Kai dojo.
It’s a series of truly horrifying events for Kreese. Now only are he and his troop captured by enemy forces, but his commanding officer blames him for the capture and reveals that the woman Kreese loves was killed in a car accident. Then, the two are forced to fight over an open pit filled with venomous cobras. Ultimately, Kreese adopts the officer’s no mercy credo and kicks his leader into the pit to his death.
While Kreese has always been a villain throughout the Karate Kid franchise, seeing the moments that led to him breaking bring an entirely new dimension to the character. For the show’s creators, it was an important step to take.
“He was presented in the ’80s as this Darth Vader character who was just bad. He was a guy who was just telling his students to do bad things, to take advantage of bad situations,” executive producer Josh Heald said. “He was just a black hat. On our show, we really strive to present antagonists in shades of grey, so that when you’re with the antagonist–or somebody who’s presented as one–you can start to at least understand what makes them tick, what their perspective is, and where they came from.”
Executive producer Jon Hurwitz was quick to compare the revelations about Kreese to other aspects of the series. Our approach to Kreese is very similar to the approach to Johnny, and our approach to any character on the show. When we were young and growing up, we hated Krease [and] we hated Johnny,” he explained. “As we got older, we started to have the perspective of, ‘Why was that person such an a**hole? Why were they a jerk?’ Oftentimes, with the benefit of hindsight, you’re able to realize, ‘Oh, this person, grew up in a troubled household. Or this person had this bad experience that happened to them that kind of helped shape who they were in certain ways.'”
Hurwitz hopes viewers will see the events that hardened Kreese and that they make fans “potentially root for his own redemption one day,” much like they do for Johnny now.
Of course, that doesn’t mean Kreese is going to magically become the hero of the story, much like his former student has. After all, he continues to do some truly terrible things to everyone who doesn’t fall in line behind him.
That all said, now that you’ve seen what created Kreese, the producers were quick to note that the story told in the flashbacks will come into play in future seasons. “We’ll have to see what happens with Kreese in the future, but there’s a reason why we do all these things,” executive producer Hayden Schlossberg said.
One clear reason was revealed in the Season 3 finale of the series, in which Kreese calls his old army buddy Terry Silver to help in taking down Johnny and Daniel for good. For those that don’t remember, Terry was first introduced in The Karate Kid Part III, in which he was a wealthy businessman that helped Kreese relaunch Cobra Kai after the event of the first Karate Kid film.
To see how big of a role Terry will play and whether actor Thomas Ian Griffith will reprise the role from the third film, fans will have to wait. While Cobra Kai has been renewed for Season 4, we don’t have a release date yet.