- This article is about the character from the novels and films. You may be looking for the Hannibal version, or the 'Manhunter version of the character.
Will Graham is a fictional character and the protagonist of Thomas Harris' 1981 novel Red Dragon. He is an FBI profiler responsible for the capture of serial killer Hannibal Lecter, and who is later assigned to capture serial killer Francis Dolarhyde. In both the text and film adaptations, Graham has the ability to empathize with psychopaths, an ability he finds extremely disturbing. He also has a photographic memory rivaling Lecter's. Dr Alan Bloom describes him as an eideteker.
Growing up poor in Louisiana, Will Graham eventually moved to New Orleans, where he became a homicide detective. He leaves New Orleans to attend graduate school in forensic science at George Washington University. After attaining his degree, Graham goes to work for the FBI's crime lab. Following exceptional work both in the crime lab and in the field, Graham is given a post as teacher at the FBI Academy. During his career in the FBI, Graham is given the title of 'Special Investigator' while he is in the field. Graham’s success comes down from his unique abilities as having pure empathy combined with an eidetic memory. These abilities allow him to empathize with anyone he meets. When solving a crime, he can assume the emotional viewpoint of the killer, which greatly disturbs him. Dr Alan Bloom describes him as an "eidekteker" while others believe that Graham is psychic.
His first major case involves a serial killer called the 'Minnesota Shrike', who had been murdering college coeds over an eight month period. In the 1970's, he catches the killer, Garrett Jacob Hobbs, at the suspect's home, in the process of trying to murder his own family. Graham finds Hobbs' wife on the apartment landing, bleeding from multiple stab wounds, who clutches at Graham before dying. Graham breaks down the door and shoots Hobbs to death as Hobbs is repeatedly stabbing his own daughter in the neck. Hobbs' daughter survives and eventually goes on with her life following intensive psychotherapy. Graham is profoundly disturbed by the incident and is referred to the psychiatric ward of Bethesda Naval Hospital. After a month in the hospital, he returns to the FBI.
In 1975, he tracks down another serial killer who savagely mutilates and in some cases removes his victims' organs. On the sixth victim, who had been found in his workshop tied to his pegboard and stabbed numerous times, Graham discovered two old hunting wounds that he obtained five years earlier. Graham learns that the man was treated by renowned psychiatrist Dr. Hannibal Lecter, a surgeon at the time. Graham meets with Lecter to see if he remembers any suspicious circumstances surrounding the patient. By this time the killer has claimed three more victims. During their first meeting, Lecter claims not to remember very much. Graham returns to see Lecter in his office, and within minutes realizes that Lecter is the killer he seeks. Graham goes to Lecter's outer office and makes a phone call to the FBI's Baltimore Field Office. Lecter, who has removed his shoes, sneaks up on Graham and slashes his abdomen with a linoleum knife, nearly disemboweling him. FBI agents and Maryland State Troopers arrive and arrest Lecter, and Graham spends months recovering in a hospital. It was only after a while in the hospital that he realized what had tipped him off — the antique medical diagram Wound Man, whose wounds match exactly those of the sixth victim. Graham's capture of Lecter makes him a celebrity, and he is revered as a legend at the FBI. A tabloid reporter, Freddy Lounds, sneaks into the hospital where Graham is recuperating, photographs Graham's wounds, and humiliates him in the National Tattler. Graham retires after his recovery.
In 1980, Graham is living with his wife Molly, whom he met a year after the incident with Lecter, and her son Willy in Sugarloaf Key, Florida. His former boss, Jack Crawford, persuades him to come out of retirement and help the FBI catch a killer nicknamed the 'Tooth Fairy', who had killed two families on a lunar cycle, the first in Birmingham and the second in Atlanta. After studying the crime scenes, Graham consults Lecter, now institutionalized in the Baltimore State Hospital for the Criminally Insane, on the case. Lecter only taunts him, however, and later sends Graham's address to the killer, Francis Dolarhyde, in code, threatening the safety of his wife and stepson. The family are moved first to a cottage owned by Crawford's brother, but Molly later decides to take Willy to stay with her late first husband's parents in Oregon. Graham resumes tracking Dolarhyde and uses Lounds in an attempt to break the coded communication between Lecter and Dolarhyde by giving Lounds false information, insinuating that Dolarhyde is an impotent homosexual. Enraged, Dolarhyde kidnaps and brutally murders Lounds. After linking him to a film developing company, Graham, Crawford, and FBI agents arrive at Dolarhyde's home to arrest him, only to find that the killer had set it on fire while his blind girlfriend, Reba McClane, was inside; he then apparently committed suicide. Graham rescues and consoles McClane, and returns home, believing Dolarhyde's reign of terror to be over.
However, Dolarhyde's apparent suicide is revealed to have been a ruse; he had shot a previous victim, fooling McClane into thinking he was dead. Dolarhyde attacks Graham and his family at their Florida home, stabbing Graham in the face before being killed by Graham's wife. Graham and his family survive, but he is left disfigured. Soon afterward, he receives a note from Lecter wishing him good luck on his recovery, in which the killer writes that he hopes Graham isn't "too ugly". Graham retires permanently, with a unique distinction of capturing three serial killers in his career.
Will Graham is briefly referred to in The Silence of the Lambs, the sequel to Red Dragon, when Clarice Starling notes that "Will Graham, the keenest hound ever to run in Crawford's pack, was a legend at the (FBI) Academy; he was also a drunk in Florida now with a face that's hard to look at..." Crawford tells her that "[Graham's] face looks like damned Picasso drew it." When Starling first meets Lecter, he asks her how Graham's face looks. Before Lecter's escape, Dr. Frederick Chilton tells him that Crawford is not happy that Lecter "cut up his protege", referencing Graham.
- In the 1986 film adaptation Manhunter, he is portrayed by William Petersen.
- In the 2002 film adaptation Red Dragon he is portrayed by Edward Norton.
- In the television series Hannibal he is portrayed by Hugh Dancy, which acts as an expansion and re-imagining to the events depicted before Red Dragon and explores the relationship between Graham and Hannibal Lecter.
- Unlike the book version, neither the Peterson or Norton version are severely disfigured by Dolarhyde and are seemingly given "happy" endings. Dancy's version of Will Graham does end up being stabbed in the face.