John Sheppard

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Name: John Sheppard
Occupation: Air Force
Title/Rank: Major (2005-2006)
Lieutenant Colonel (2006-present)
Atlantis: Ranking Military Officer (2005-present)
Location: Atlantis, Pegasus Galaxy
Status: alive
Relationships: David Sheppard (brother)
Nancy (wife, divorced)
Patrick (father, deceased)
Fandom: Stargate Atlantis
Other: Team Leader, Primary first contact team
Click here for related articles on Fanlore.


U.S. Air Force Lieutenant Colonel John Sheppard is the military leader of Atlantis. He is also the leader of Atlantis's primary contact team and the strongest known holder of the ATA (Ancient Technology Activation) gene on the Atlantis mission. He is a pilot who is comfortable with a large variety of aircraft.

The character is played by actor Joe Flanigan.
Drawing of John Sheppard by crysothemis published in the Surfacing zine.


Sheppard's childhood was one of wealth and privilege[1]; an unexplained rift between his father, magnate Patrick Sheppard, divided Sheppard from his family. No mention is made of his mother; he has one brother, David, from whom he appears to have been estranged until his father's death, when tentative overtures were made on the part of both brothers at the end of the episode.

It is not known when Sheppard joined the Air Force; fandom speculation remains on whether he attended the USAF Academy in Colorado Springs or joined the Air Force after receiving a degree. (His status as a Major at the inception of the series implies that he was the holder of at least a Bachelor's degree, but a Master's-level degree is very likely.) We do know that Sheppard is intelligent; in Season 1, Sheppard tells Dr. Rodney McKay that he took the Mensa test and passed, but did not join the organization (Sheppard goes on to solve a nifty little number puzzle, backing up his claim[2]).

Sheppard has been married once, to a woman introduced to us only as Nancy (Outcast revealed more of Sheppard's background than nearly four full seasons of conversations with his friends)[3].

Sheppard in the Pegasus Galaxy

Sheppard's Air Force career appears to have been checkered, to say the least. When viewers meet him, he has been assigned to McMurdo Station in Antarctica, apparently a punishment detail for having attempted to rescue downed U.S. airmen against direct orders. This "black mark" on Sheppard's record is mentioned by Colonel Marshall Sumner, the first military leader of the Atlantis expedition, when he protests Sheppard's inclusion in the expedition, and later expanded upon in season three[4].) Set against Sheppard's black mark and marked lack of military bearing is his skill with weapons, aircraft and tactical decision-making under pressure, first seen in season one[5].

Sheppard becomes military leader of the Atlantis expedition through a harrowing series of events which see him shooting COL Sumner in a mercy killing, to prevent his torture by a Wraith queen[6]). This is not an auspicious beginning to Sheppard's command, and throughout the first and even second seasons, Sheppard must work to establish his fitness for command.

As military leader of the expedition, Sheppard assembles a team with which to explore the Pegasus Galaxy. The team consists of Teyla Emmagan (Athosian leader and Pegasus Galaxy native), Rodney McKay (astrophysicist and engineer) and Aiden Ford (Marine Lieutenant and advocate of things that go "boom"). Ford is later lost to the team and replaced by Satedan Ronon Dex.

Sheppard's Personality

Sheppard appears to be almost incapable of talking about his personal feelings,[7] and although he is very attractive to members of the opposite sex, he seems to be awkward and surprised by their advances,[8] to the point of not quite knowing how to deal with them. Sheppard admits this fairly openly, noting that it's probably why he enjoyed the solitary occupation of flying helicopters in the most remote parts of the world.

His personal mantra of "Leave no one behind" is often left unspoken, but he has proven it again and again.

McKay more than once accuses Sheppard of being "Kirk" - a reference to Captain James T. Kirk from on the original Star Trek series, both to Kirk's tendency to take threats to his ship and his team extremely personally[9] and to his womanising ways[10]. While fandom often focuses on the accusation of womanising, it is in his unbending personal code of leadership and loyalty that Sheppard more closely resembles the erstwhile captain of the Enterprise.

Other fans disagree and think Sheppard and Kirk are not that similar: "A lot of SGA fans and SGA canon itself have said at various points, especially in regard to women, that John Sheppard is acting like Star Trek's Jim Kirk. Well, my first fandom-fandom was Star Trek TOS, I *know* Captain Kirk, and believe me, Sheppard is no Kirk."[11]

Other notes on Sheppard's personality and activities:

  • He has a nerdy side, engaging in conversations about Batman supervillains, Star Trek in-jokes and Back to the Future references with McKay.
  • He is an avid enough golfer to have launched plenty of Titleists into the ocean off a secluded pier of Atlantis while practicing the sport.
  • He practices sparring with both Ronon and Teyla, often to the point of minor injury.
  • He and McKay secretly played a world-building game for nearly three years in the lower depths of Atlantis.[12]
"The appeal of John Sheppard, for me, is that he can be heroic and competent one minute, and then be the biggest dork in two galaxies the next. The dorkiness keeps him human rather than a cardboard cutout hero and makes him seem more approachable. [...] he frequently risks his own life rather than send someone else. This could get annoyingly heroic if he wasn't a big doofus at the same time."[13]

One of the big controversies about John Sheppard is whether at his core he is a psychotic killer or a pampered rich kid. (This is frequently framed as Psychokiller or Pretty, Pretty Princess. There was a panel on it at Escapade in 2007[14], and the question was asked of the character's actor Joe Flanigan at the BSG/SG1 con in Burbank in November, 2007.[15] Flanigan's answer, "Some of both.")

Sheppard the Suicidal?

Sheppard is capable of scary levels of self-sacrifice, and has more than once said that he is willing to give his life for his team. Ever since he chose the obviously suicidal mission of flying a nuclear bomb into a hive ship to save Atlantis in "The Siege", fans have emphasized this aspect of his character. Later canon seems to admit this too: in "Progeny", Sheppard fantasizes evacuating Atlantis and remaining behind to launch the self-destruct; in "The Prodigal", Sheppard asks, "How many suicide missions have I flown?" and McKay answers, "I don't know. I lost count." In "Remnants", Sheppard's subconscious concocts a truly terrifying scenario in which he is beaten and maimed by his dead enemy Kolya, who taunts him with all his failures and all the people who have died under his command. His inner Kolya tells him, "You're either someone with a death wish, or someone running away from something." Fans had written many of both kinds of stories long before the episode aired.

Mensaverse and other canon AU Sheppards

We learn about several other John Sheppards in canon. In "Before We Sleep", we learn about one who died, along with everyone except Elizabeth Weir, the first time the expedition went through the gate. In the "Daedalus Variations," we meet an AU Sheppard flying an F302 in defense of Atlantis; he and our Sheppard form a little mutual admiration society. We meet a Replicator Sheppard in "This Mortal Coil" and suffer a Sheppard-impersonator in "Doppelganger"--neither of these are the real Sheppard, but they provide fascinating glimpses--or reverse-images--of the character.

Mensaverse: We also hear about another John Sheppard in what fans call the Mensaverse (from season three episode McKay and Mrs. Miller). The Mensaverse gets its name from the fact that Rod McKay tells us that its John Sheppard "is very active with the Mensa club we have there." This Sheppard also sleeps late, doesn't play golf, and is extremely arrogant about his intelligence.[16] Fans have taken this as an indication of traits perhaps hidden or repressed in our-universe John, and have written many stories fleshing out the character.[17]

Vegasverse: We meet another canonical AU Sheppard in episode 5.19: Vegas. In this episode, John Sheppard became a detective in Las Vegas after failing to rescue a medic in Afghanistan. Consequently, he never went to Atlantis, nor was he ever discovered to be an ATA gene carrier. This Sheppard is described by the Vegasverse McKay as follows:

"I know everything about you. You've never been married. The only thing you own is a car. You have $2,363.00 in the bank and are $13,000.00 in debt…not counting the off-the-books gambling losses to a guy named "Mikey." What else? You finally passed your detective exam after four years and two failed attempts…and now barely scrape by on quarterly performance reviews. You were a helicopter pilot in Afghanistan, but were dishonorably discharged for disobeying orders and trying to rescue a field medic trapped behind enemy lines. You were shot down—obviously survived, but unfortunately the crash killed four American soldiers, along with eight civilians. You avoided jail time. The record was sealed for various "political reasons." These things happen, right? Somehow, you've managed to live with yourself since then, but I'm not sure other people would if they knew the truth."

McKay later adds: "That field medic…the one you defied orders to go back and try and rescue…you knew her personally. You were…involved."[18]

Fan Response

Sheppard has always been an extremely popular character, and has built up a great deal of fanon. (surely there must be essays/manifestos/etc. where people talk about his popularity and his role in SGA's insane growth rate? also, examples of fanon and early popular fics that helped to establish it, arguments over, sometimes being Kripked or Jossed by canon as the show went on)

Some fans criticize fandom's immediate and continuing focus on Sheppard and McKay to the exclusion of other main characters. Other fans argue that the show shares this focus, although as previously stated on this page, little was known about John's background or personal life until mid-Season 4, in contrast to Rodney, Teyla and Ronon, all of whom had multiple episodes devoted to their personal lives, pre-Atlantis relationships, and history.

Sheppard's Life in Fan Fiction

Many stories during first season primarily had John as an adjunct to Rodney, such as in the Geeks and Goons series. Balcony Sessions by Leah gave John more of a chance to tell 'his side' of the relationship. But the military mystified a lot of fan writers, and so when Cosecant by Domenika Marzione was posted, it rattled the fannish cage a bit, for those fans that read gen as well as slash, in that it was clearly based in a military perspective.

Samdonne's John Sheppard opus, Your Cowboy Days Are Over, released in 2006, was a touchstone for many John Sheppard fans in a fandom that some of them considered Rodney-centric[19]. Combining the complexity of ethical dilemmas that had no real right answers with a harder, more modern sci-fi base, it quickly became popular in the LJ community.[20]

Ltlj's Retrograde series is a complex gen novel exploring an Atlantis that has gone native and did not reconnect again with Earth within a year. It focuses closely on Sheppard and the relations of other characters with Sheppard, while putting him through a lot of moral, physical and emotional challenges. Jack O'Neill (of Stargate SG-1) is also present in the story, and provides a kind of narrative mirror for Sheppard (the two characters were conceived by the Stargate creators as having similarities, at least on paper).

Sheppard is portrayed as closeted in most slash stories, which often frame it as a price he willingly pays for being allowed to fly. This is normal enough that there have been provocative stories which playfully invert the cliche; in If you want to kiss the sky by siegeofangels, John is the only straight officer in a gay world...but he hides it, in order to be able to fly. Similarly, where many fandoms have stories where a particular character woke up gay, John Sheppard wakes up straight.[21] (This tells you everything you need to know about Sheppard, really.)

Fanon or Canon

Sheppard as military brat

In early stories, John is often shown as a military brat; this speculation may have been due to early casting sheets which posited that Sheppard's father was a highly placed official in the U.S. Air Force. There was also a short biography on the website that declared John the "son of a respected Cold War colonel"[22] This notion was jossed in Season 4, but many fanfiction stories written before Outcast posit a military upbringing for Sheppard.

Sheppard the mathematical genius

Fanfic often depicts Sheppard as a mathematical genius who hides his talents, or even advanced college degrees, in order to not stand out in the military. The canon behind this includes:

  • mentions that John "could have been MENSA" in at least two episodes.[23]
  • John asking Ronon and Teyla if they want his sudoku books in The Return.
  • moments in The Rising and Brotherhood when John does quick mathematical calculations.

An early character biography posted on the official website also mentioned his math aptitude[22], though the canonical aspect of that will always be in dispute. So while it is clear from canon that John has an affinity for math, the 'genius' part is in question, along with the motivation 'to not stand out in the military.'

Special ATA gene

In fanfic Sheppard often has a kind of extraordinary connection to Atlantis, or an especially "strong" ATA gene. The canon behind this comes from some moments in The Rising:

  • John is shown to more completely master the control chair than Carson Beckett, and with less apparent effort. This is also shown again in Misbegotten, when Beckett is visually straining over being in the drone control chair.
  • The stairs in Atlantis light up under his feet

This interpretation is somewhat reinforced in later episodes, when Richard Woolsey is trapped by the closing doors of a conference room in Broken Ties, and when Jennifer Keller, who is not known to be a gene carrier, has to use a light switch to turn on a lamp.

Counter-evidence in canon would be the door switches outside of both McKay and Sheppard's quarters, which both characters are shown using.

Sometimes fanfic takes this even further and depicts Sheppard as a descended Ancient. An early example of the Ancient!Sheppard trope is Angels in the Architecture by shetiger.

Sheppard Whump

Sheppard, whumped

Some fanfic authors, mostly gen Sheppard fans, call themselves "Shep-whumpers", and take great delight in whumping their favorite character up to or past breaking-point. While most of these stories are classic hurt/comfort, the focus is much more on the hurt than the comfort, with Sheppard enduring physical, mental, and emotional torture. The sheppard_hc comm runs regular challenges, including the 30 Days of Shep Whump theme challenge.[24]

Psychokiller or Pretty, Pretty Princess

The question of whether Sheppard is at heart a Psychokiller or a Pretty, Pretty Princess (see Sheppard's Personality, above) often gets worked out in fanfiction. Few stories literally portray Sheppard as either a psychokiller or a pretty, pretty princess, though some do, including Pru's Share (wherein Rodney sets up Sheppard's IM account under "princess.sheppardina"), and astolat's Under the Sea (in which John goes to a fraternity ball in drag and Rodney calls him "Princess Ancienta" until he finds out his real name). In kHo's Dexter fusion "John", John is literally a sociopath. But more commonly, psychokiller and pretty princess represent a broader spectrum of characterization.

Psychokiller: Many stories are interested in Sheppard's apparently black ops skills, which seems unusual for a pilot; it has been speculated that he might be a pararescue.[25] The Sheppard-as-super-soldier characterization really took hold with Season 1's mid-season two-parter, The Storm and The Eye, in which Sheppard takes out the invading Genii soldiers, one by one, Die Hard-style. Exigencies by rivier is one of the best known fics in the genre, and as it was published during the season one to two hiatus, may be the first of the trope.

Relatedly, Sheppard's characterization has been influenced by his terrifying and unhesitating self-sacrifice (e.g. in The Siege, in which he takes it upon himself to fly a nuclear bomb into a hive ship.) Extended, this characterization suggests to fans a suicidal impulse or a deathwish[26]--or at the very least, a military pragmatism that borders on ruthlessness, as evidenced by the torture of Kavanaugh in Critical Mass.

Joe Flanigan's cool, often deadpan acting style[27] has influenced this interpretation as well, with some fan fiction writers speculating that the only explanation is that Sheppard is actually a robot.

Notable Sheppard-as-a-robot stories include Tannhauser Gate by Trinityofone (in which John is a replicant), The Difference Engine by copperbadge (in which John is a robot), and Male Enhancement by Lavvyan and Male Enhancement (The Soul and the Company Store Remix) by Leah[28] (in which John is a sex-bot, or may be a whole lot more than a sex-bot, respectively).

Sheppard with his pony, an outtake from Outcast

Pretty, Pretty Princess: In part, this comes from the fact that Sheppard's life in season one is a Cinderella story: he is a pilot who chose friendship over duty and was thus exiled to the wilderness of Antarctica, where his talents and skills are unappreciated and underutilized, until the moment when he sits in the command chair and is revealed to be the heir to the Ancient Empire. This characterization has also been bolstered by the late revelation of Sheppard's past as the son of a utilities magnate (DEX: This the house you were raised in? SHEPPARD: One of them.[29]), but the writers may well have based this choice on Joe Flanigan's own wealthy upbringing, rejecting their initial sketch of him as the son of a Cold War colonel. Even before fans got a hold of the outtake photo that suggests Sheppard had a pony, fans began to intuit his upper class status through items such as his canonical love of golf (he's been playing since he was six); it's also possible that some of this is bleed-through from the actor, who is known to have grown up on a ranch, attended boarding school[30], and worked in politics.[31] In fanfiction, this pretty princess characterization has led to stories emphasizing John as a fairy-tale hero, as a poor little rich boy, or literally as a girl.

Sheppard's Many AU Lives

In AUs, fans have written Sheppard as: a dog walker[32], a private investigator, an artist's model, the owner of a junk store[33], a lifeguard[34], a violinist[35], an oddjobsman, a dance instructor, a baker[36], the lead singer of a rock band[37], a supermarket owner[38], an Iowa farmer[39], a rodeo rider[40], a fisherman[41], an assassin, a fair trade coffee roaster[42], and many, many more.[43]

Who Is John Sheppard?

Some fans have complained that over the five year run of SGA we learned less about John Sheppard than any other character; however, this perception has encouraged many different characterizations. In her post "Who is John Sheppard?" Kate, aka greendreaming, answered the question through a survey of stories. Her answers included:

Kate concludes, "So: who is your John Sheppard?"

Fans have had no trouble answering this question:

J Is For John, Overcome by a Hug: Sheppard in Fan Art

Sheppard as pretty, pretty princess.

Adding to repressed-John fanon, John was depicted as meeting his death through being "overcome by a hug" in Argosy and kiden's magnificent, Gorey-inspired artwork, The Pegasus Tinies. Other Sheppard-centric art includes:

Sheppard-centric Vids

John Sheppard is by far the most popular SGA character for songvids.

Sheppard-centric LJ Communities

Links and Resources


  1. Season 4, Episode 15, Outcast
  2. Season 1, Episode 16, The Brotherhood
  3. Season 4, Episode 15, Outcast
  4. Season 3, Episode 9, Phantoms
  5. Season 1, Episodes 10 & 11, The Storm and The Eye
  6. Season 1, Episodes 1 & 2, The Rising
  7. See: Season 3, Episode 4, Sateda, in which Teyla finishes Sheppard's heartfelt declarations of loyalty and team love, due to his complete inability to do so.
  8. "I never see this coming," Sheppard mumbles when accosted by an assertive young woman in The Tower, Season 2, Episode 15.
  9. McKAY: There's no point in you being out there.
    SHEPPARD: He's aboard my ship.
    McKAY: What are you, Captain Kirk?!
    (McKay and Sheppard about Sheppard planning to go after an ancient Wraith on his own, The Defiant One, Season 1, Episode 12)
  10. McKAY: "Word of caution? The whole Captain Kirk routine is problematic to say the least, let alone morally dubious." (McKay to Sheppard about the latter's flirting with Chaya, Sanctuary, Season 1, 14)
  11. From How to Tell the Difference Between James T. Kirk and John Sheppard: A Field Guide (f-locked) by mecurtin, 22 December 2005. (Accessed 10 May 2011).
  12. The Game, Season 3, Episode 15.
  13. We Can Name it Later essay on John Sheppard by _medley_ at Idol Reflection, 29 April 2006. (Accessed 10 May 2011)
  14. Escapade Panel Brainstorming on Rachael Sabotini's LJ, Accessed October 31, 2008
  15. "OH JOE..." LJ post by dajaje, 18 Nov. 2007, Accessed October 31, 2008.
  16. SHEPPARD: Well, you can't blame a man for his intelligence. ROD: No, but I can blame him for reminding all the time. SHEPPARD (amazed): He doesn't! ROD: Mmm, trust me. My Sheppard makes your Rodney seem modest in comparison.
  17. Mensa AU Masterlist
  18. Transcript of the episode Vegas
  19. Comments, because it is very early and i'm very awake at Seperis's Livejournal, September 23, 2006
  20. midday, later than by Seperis, September 20, 2006
  21. Straight as a Circle by toomuchplor.
  22. 22.0 22.1 Cast Page for Sheppard via Wayback Machine link for 13 August 2004
  23. Season 1, episode 15, The Brotherhood; season 5, episode 10, First Contact.
  24. 30 DAYS OF SHEP WHUMP posted by x_erikah_x, 9 Jan 2009 (Accessed 19 February 2009)
  25. somewhere in the back of a dresser drawer, John Sheppard has an old maroon beret posted by marythefan, 20 Nov 2005 (Accessed 19 February 2009)
  26. MVP by Speranza
  27. "[...] maybe the guy is some kind of weird method genius. Maybe he sits in his trailer and makes little pencil marks on his script, all 'stare stonefaced at the wall and react oddly and a beat too late.' and make a totally inappropriate face.' and 'unconvincingly simulate sexual attraction to someone.' and 'act like a rageaholic, while speaking in a monotone.'" Yes. I am excited by Helenish, posted 11 July 2006
  28. Male Enhancement by Lavvyan and Male Enhancement (The Soul and the Company Store Remix) by Leah
  29. Episode transcript for Outcast
  30. Joe Flanigan Tv.Com Biography Accessed November 21, 2008
  31. IMDB Joe Flanigan Biography
  32. Walk This Way, by Yin Again.
  33. Junk Cheap, by Devildoll.
  34. Converging by Purna, April 2007. (Last accessed December, 2008)
  35. String Theory, A Concerto for Violin in D Minor by Toft, [1] August, 2006. (Last accessed December, 2008.)
  36. Foster's Bakery series by cesare and anatsuno, (Accessed 11 May 2011).
  37. Four Quarters by trinityofone, March, 2006. (Last accessed December, 2008.)
  38. A Supermarket in California, by Taffetablue.
  39. A Farm in Iowa, by Sheafrotherdon.
  40. Animal Husbandry by Casspeach, January, 2006. (Last accessed December, 2008.)
  41. Romance At The Roadkill Grill by Lamardeuse, December, 2007. (Last accessed December, 2008.)
  42. Fair Trade by Esteefee, March, 2009. (Last accessed April, 2009.)
  43. For more examples, see the hundreds of additional stories, sorted by John's AU profession, listed at the Giant McShep AU themed list by elderwitty. (Accessed 11 May 2011)
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