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"Let me tell you something, okay? Where I’m from, having a dream doesn’t make you smart. Knowing it won’t come true? That does."
—Ryan Atwood to Sandy Cohen[src]

Ryan Atwood (adopted Cohen) was the main protagonist of "The O.C.". He was portrayed by Benjamin McKenzie.

He is part of The Core Four.

Story of the Character

Life before Season 1

Ryan was a teenager from Chino. When the boy is caught stealing a car with his older brother Trey, he is sent to juvenile detention, and it is there that he meets lawyer Sandy Cohen. Subsequently, Ryan is abandoned by his biological mother, Dawn, and this is how despite some initial complaints from Sandy's wife, Kirsten, he is eventually welcomed by The Cohen Family. However to the woman, it did not take long for her to become attached to the boy, and since then, the young man has lived with them in Newport Beach. Subsequently, he will be officially adopted by the family.

Season 1 : From his life in Chino, to that in Orange County

In this first season, Ryan is introduced to us as a guy with a tendency to punch people in the face. He must also constantly defend Seth from the bullies - an example of this, he is at Holly's party on the beach, after the party, where Ryan punches Luke Ward, the water polo team captain and boyfriend of Marissa Cooper, because he and his friends were bothering Seth. Ryan falls in love with Marissa, despite the great dismay of Luke. Marissa is secretly attracted to Ryan, but remains with Luke and she becomes very jealous when she sees Ryan kissing his foster grandfather's Caleb Nichol girlfriend, Gabrielle. In an act of revenge, Marissa decides to lose her virginity with Luke, to make sure she comes back with Ryan. Subsequently, Marissa's parents divorce. Moreover, the girl finds Luke in Tijuana, while he is cheating on her with her best friend Holly Fischer, for this reason, she ends up having an overdose on painkillers, before Ryan rescues her. When they return to Newport Beach, Ryan and Marissa start a relationship, even though Luke desperately tries to get back with her. The relationship affair between him and Marissa is booming, until the arrival of Oliver Trask, a dangerous and manipulative boy. Oliver's presence creates a great rift in their already fragile romance. Ryan starts to suspect him, so he turns to Seth for support, but his brother is on the side of Marissa. Later, also thanks to the Marissa's former boyfriend Luke Ward, who does research on Oliver, we find out that the guy is actually an obsessive and mentally ill person, who thinks he's in love with Marissa, even though the girl insists on the fact that the two are friends, and she is in love with Ryan. Oliver is then discovered to be an impostor when he confesses his love to the young Cooper, and threatens to shoot himself, if he does not talk to Marissa. In the end, Ryan manages to save Marissa, however, he can't forgive her for trusting a madman instead of the one she says she loves. She begs him to "start all over again", but Ryan doesn't want to have anything to do with her anymore. The young woman is sorry and apologizes to Ryan, begging him to "start over" - Ryan cannot accept Marissa's apology, so they leave for the first time in the series. Ryan sees his old Chino girlfriend: Theresa Diaz, with whom he starts a relationship, while Luke starts a casual sexual relationship with Marissa's mother, Julie Cooper. Marissa discovers the relationship and flees to Chino from Theresa, whom she had met when she went with Ryan. The boy, he finds her and wants to convince her to come back, but Marissa, claims to hate them both and not want to go back to Newport, never again. However, Ryan convinces her and she comes home, but she does not forgive her mother and Luke for what they did to her. Meanwhile, Ryan and Marissa return together after a kiss that the two share on the waterfront. Julie is engaged to Caleb Nichol, to the dismay of Luke, who gets drunk at the engagement party and moves away from Ryan when he tries to stop him. Luke then "runs into his pick-up truck, against a lamp post" and then is taken to the hospital after swearing to leave Newport forever to allow Marissa to continue living her life. Ryan then leaves for Chino when he discovers that his former girlfriend Theresa could carry her son in her womb. Marissa's broken heart leads her to drink, while Seth leaves because Ryan was all he had in Newport.

Season 2 : His return to Newport and the problems with Marissa

Not surprisingly, Ryan returned to Newport Beach, after Theresa made him believe she had a miscarriage. He also convinced Seth to return from Portland to The Cohen household with him after he ran away too. Ryan is portrayed as much more mature in the second season. After he broke up with Marissa Cooper, Ryan had a relationship with Lindsay Gardner, who is soon discovered to be Kirsten Cohen's sister and Caleb Nichol's love child since he cheated on her mother for some time. After Lindsay moved, Ryan reunited with Marissa. Ryan brother, Trey, is released from prison moves to Newport Beach to be with Ryan. At the end of the season, Trey and Marissa were alone and they got drunk. Trey was high and attacked Marissa sexually. As she was struggling, she hit him on the head with a log, giving her time to get away. Eventually Ryan found out about the attempted rape which lead to Ryan turning to the "old Ryan" and to a confrontation between him and Trey. The confrontation turned and had Ryan pinned to the floor where Trey was strangling him. Marissa ran in and pleaded with Trey to let Ryan go. In a fit of rage Trey refused and Marissa shot him in the back as a result. It was left unclear whether he survived or not until the third season.

Season 3 : Graduation and Marissa's death

Ryan was blamed by his brother Trey for shooting him. Subsequently, however, Trey retracted the confession, admitting that Julie had paid him to blame Ryan. With Ryan's charges dropped, Trey escaped from Newport. Marissa was expelled from the Harbor High School, seeing herself forced to attend public school instead. Here she makes friends with an amateur surfer : Johnny Harper, Ryan becomes suspicious of their closeness, making sure that their relationship goes and goes, increases. After Johnny dies in an accident, Ryan "interrogates" Marissa about his feelings about Johnny, and the girl's answer, ends their relationship. After breaking up, the rivalry between Ryan and Volchok, increases, coming to cases of blackmail, extortion and violence.

Season 4 : The definitive maturation of Ryan

5 months after Marissa's death, Ryan's life has changed completely. He didn't attend her funeral, and left the Cohens' house. He is in a very, very dark place and throws out all of the photos with Marissa on it. He’s working as a bartender, and lives in the slum behind the bar. He won’t see the Cohens, but eventually he moved back home at the end of ”The Avengers." When Julie asks him to find Volchok and avenge Marissa, Sandy solves the problem. Ryan confronts Volchok one last time, before he's imprisoned. Ryan returns to the Cohens' house and has a new job, but he still can't think of anything else than Marissa. When he has problems sleeping, Taylor offers him help. She falls in love with him, but he's not ready to let go of Marissa, but then in "A Christmuk-huh?" he receives a letter from her in which she tells him, why she had to leave and that she loves him, he finally starts over and starts dating Taylor. However, several problems arise with this new relationship. Taylor's French ex-husband Henri-Michel appears with a biography about his love to Taylor alias: Peaches. Ryan starts to compete with Henri-Michel, and in the end wins Taylor's heart with a sweet poem. The relationship continues to be a bit weird as Ryan still has the "I love you"-problem. When his father Frank Atwood returns, Ryan is reminded once again of his dark past. After a few difficulties, Ryan and his father get along pretty well, and grow together with the help of Taylor. During the devastating earthquake, Ryan is seriously injured and rescued by Seth, who delivered him safely to the hospital and donated his blood as they are both "Type O".

In the series finale, following a 6 month flashforward, Ryan aids in finding the Cohens a new home, mirroring the offer they had extended to him in Season 1. Ryan goes on to rekindle his relationship with Taylor, as they both face up to attending college in different countries. As the series reaches its conclusion, Ryan reminisces on his time spent in Newport with the Cohen Family, thinking back to when he first stepped foot in the pool house, his first look at the famous Cohen-house view as well as his first encounter with Seth. As Ryan drives off, he pays homage to Marissa, as the iconic final scene from the episode: "Premiere" is once again revisited. The final montage leaves Ryan's relationship with Taylor somewhat ambiguous, as the two share a smile at Seth and Summer's wedding. The last scene brings the show full circle, as Ryan, now a successful architect, comes across a down-trodden youth dressed in the familiar Ryan Atwood grey hoodie, on his bike next to a phone booth - mirroring the situation Ryan found himself in the pilot. Realizing the situation, Ryan asks the kid if he needs any help, and that's how the series ends.


Ryan is a brooding, tough, cynical and quick-tempered young man, yet compassionate, a good listener, sometimes sarcastic (mostly to Seth) and empathetic towards people in trouble and those less fortunate than himself. Ryan is a nice guy who likes to help people and likes to defend people's honors. He has a very good relationship with the Cohens. During his first months in Newport, he had the tendency to physically express his anger at the incessant teasing from his schoolmates by punching them, which led them intentionally goad him even more, but he gradually calmed down, after some serious lecturing from Sandy and being sent to anger management counseling. He at times appears burdened by an almost-compulsive need to rescue others at the expense of his own well-being, however, and is overly protective of Marissa and Theresa, his main love interests on the show. The product of an abusive household, he has difficulty trusting or getting close to people emotionally, which could also be due to the fact that his mother Dawn refused to get help for her alcoholism and brother Trey continuously broke his promises to stay out of trouble. He is extremely loyal to his family, both biological and adopted, and those he cares about. The fact that he rarely smiles or says much is something of a running joke among other members of the Cohen household; early in the first season when he first moves in with the Cohens, he often looks down and avoids making eye contact, likely a habit of self-preservation born out of his upbringing in an unstable home and would stiffen when hugged; by the final season, he becomes more open to his adoptive family. Despite his reticent nature and emotionless exterior, Ryan can be quite transparent, often "convey[ing] everything with just a look", and is virtually incapable of lying, as Sandy proved in the episode "The O.Sea" when he caught Ryan trying to cover-up for Seth and Ryan's "guilty face" gave it away.


See: Ryan Atwood/Relationships


Season 1

Season 2

Season 3

Season 4