Barrett Carnahan, the actor who portrays Kreese in those flashback scenes, has spoken extensively about what he’s tried to bring to the character with his limited screen time, and his views on what makes Kreese tick line up very nicely with Kove’s. In those scenes, Kreese is seen pre-deployment being bullied himself, then getting into a fight with his tormentor (who is actually portrayed by Kove’s son Jesse) for the honor of his future girlfriend, Betsy (Emily Marie Palmer). After departing for Vietnam, he not only endures his capture and brutal punishment, but also learns that Betsy was killed in a car crash — all traumatic circumstances which would have a way of changing anybody’s outlook on life.
In a chat with?SyFy, Carnahan explained how Kreese’s troubled past molded him into the hard-edged, flint-eyed badass we’ve come to know. “After you see what happens to him in [his early years], you come to understand that what this guy has seen and what he has experienced could potentially brand you for life,” Carnahan said. “If you’re in a situation where you know that danger could be lurking around the corner… you’re going to strike first, with no mercy.”
Carnahan went on to share how that first flashback scene, in which Kreese’s bully shares some familiar philosophies on conflict resolution, was designed to subvert audience expectations regarding Kreese. “When Jesse Kove walked in the diner and started talking about never showing your opponent mercy, everybody jumped the gun and assumed that was young Kreese,” he said. “To have that switch on the audience, and to have Kreese be the one who was bullied, I think that was really a brilliant move because, from the very get-go, you question what you thought about Kreese in the past.”
We don’t yet know if we’ll see more of young Kreese in?Cobra Kai season 4, but one thing seems certain: the show’s writers, and Kove, will likely continue to challenge everything we thought we knew about John Kreese.