the thing about morally grey characters or characters you don’t think “deserve” a redemption arc, is like. a lot of us have done things we’re not proud of. all of us have, in fact, whether you want to admit it or not. and i’ve never done, you know, murders, but a story about “this person was kind of a dick and now isn’t” doesn’t have very much meaning when there’s zombies or whatever.
it’s about scale. in real life, i’ve done things like “yelled something that crossed a line in an argument” and “mistreated a friend,” that were a pretty big deal to the people i hurt, because i live a regular quiet life. if your story has much higher stakes, then the transgression has to be worse as well in order to maintain the weight of it. and whatever that anti-hero “deserves,” it’s crucial that once someone realizes they regret their actions, they have a model to look at and say “if they can keep trying to be better, so can I.”
“if you think of yourself as a villain you probably should just die” isn’t a remotely useful message to send.
people always seem to be afraid that the message redemption arcs send is something like “you can go ahead and do Fucked Up Shit if you want, consequence-free” but i’ve very rarely actually seen stories like that. redemption (and a pretty severe guilt-complex) almost always IS the consequence.
and these arcs aren’t really about the Fuck Up itself, and so are aimed at people that ALREADY relate to the feeling of “did a Bad Thing” (which, incidentally, anyone with an ounce of self-awareness will relate to at some point in their life), not people who are like, contemplating….turning….evil? i guess? it doesn’t encourage anyone to do MORE fucked up shit, that’s what poorly-written lone wolf action heroes do.
it seems to me that the message you’re ACTUALLY afraid of is “if you consider yourself a Bad Person, you can still put in the effort to put some good into the world” and at least like 80% of the time it comes with the addendum “but you’ll probably continue to feel like shit for the rest of your life over it, so dear god don’t do any more Bad Things.”
and like. if you seriously want to make the argument that this message does anything other than pretty objectively encourage people to be better, then i don’t really know what to say to you.