Saturday, July 29, 2017

The Hidden Secrets of Solas's Frescoes

We share the ancient mysteries, the feelings lost, forgotten dreams, unseen for ages now beheld in wonder.

Once you arrive at Skyhold in Dragon Age: Inquisition, everyone finds a niche for themselves, and Solas takes up residence in an elegant round tower room on the ground floor.

Solas's ancient and beautiful fresco paintings, which progressively fill the walls of his round tower room as the story moves forward, actually tell the story of the Inquisitor, and each panel reflects a major choice or decision the Inquisitor made so far.
What's interesting about Solas's paintings isn't just that they tell the story of the Inquisition—they will actually change subtly from playthrough to playthrough, depending on decisions you make.

For example, as you can see here, there are several different possible frescoes (and orders) depending on the Inquisitor's choices. (Note: All images courtesy of Bioware and the Dragon Age Wiki):

  • PANEL 1: The Breach, and the destruction of the Temple of Sacred Ashes
  • PANEL 2: The formation of the Inquisition (the wolfpack assembles)
  • PANEL 3: Siding with the Templars (Mages align behind Corypheus)
  • PANEL 3 (ALT): Siding with the Mages (Templars align behind Corypheus; we also see Redcliffe castle and the nightmare possible future of Alexius)
  • PANEL 4: Corypheus rises, and Haven is destroyed.
  • PANEL 5: The Siege of Adamant, if done before "Wicked Eyes and Wicked Hearts." (Note the Grey Warden shield and Adamant Fortress. We can also see a glimpse of the Fade, the Black City, and the Nightmare Demon)
  • PANEL 5 (ALT): The assassination of Empress Celene (if done before "Here Lies the Abyss"). Notice that Celene is dressed as she was at the Ball at Halamshiral.
  • PANEL 6: The Siege of Adamant (if done after "Wicked Eyes and Wicked Hearts"). (As before, note the Grey Warden shield and Adamant Fortress. We can also see a glimpse of the Fade, the Black City, and the Nightmare Demon)
  • PANEL 6 (ALT): The assassination attempt against Empress Celene, if done after "Here Lies the Abyss." As before, notice that Celene is dressed as she was at the Ball at Halamshiral.
  • PANEL 7: The Temple of Mythal. Note the presence of Abelas and the Well of Sorrows. The arch may also represent Mythal's last Eluvian.

  • Behind the Frescoes: Techniques & Larger Meanings

    For a gorgeous examination of the technique Solas would have used to create these frescoes, I highly recommend checking out the "Let's Talk Solas's Frescoes" blog post from "Sulahn Enasalin," The post goes into great detail on the classic techniques for creating frescoes like Solas's, and it's fascinating and intricately researched.

    The post from "Sulahn Enasalin" also makes a truly important point that I feel is too often overlooked—that Solas's gorgeous frescoes are in fact a gift, from him to us. As "Sulahn Enasalin" explains:

    "The frescoes are his gift to the Inquisitor and/or Inquisition, a representation of an art barely known or remembered in modern Thedas, telling the Inquisitor’s story, applied with painstaking craftsmanship and dedication. It’s His Gift, something he gives even to an Inquisitor he truly dislikes."

    As a Solas romancer (or "Solasmancer") I also find something lovely in the idea that Solas paints these images as a gift, true, but perhaps also as a way for him to express his feelings.

    I also can't help but feel that there's something else to the murals. Knowing who Solas truly is—I feel that the frescoes are also Solas's attempts to rejoin the world and to regroup, to try to analyze and understand the strange and upsetting reality in which he now finds himself.

    So he leaves us with a gift that he never mentions and never discusses—and none are required. The gift is there on each wall before our eyes. I find that really lovely, subtle, and very true to Solas.

    A Final, Hidden Secret

    Solas also leaves a final fresco (unfinished) at the end of DAI. Note that you can only see it if you go to his room after defeating the game.

    First off—why is it unfinished? The simplest answer is that Solas was interrupted at this work when Corypheus attacked. However, I also wonder if it isn't unfinished because of Solas's own ambivalence. He has grown to love and care for the people of the Inquisition -- and certainly for the romanced Inquisitor, even after he broke things off (sending my own poor Lavellan off to a period of permanent weeping and residence at the bottom of a booze barrel at the Herald's Rest). He is filled with regret at what he believes he must do next -- departing the Inquisition, meeting with Flemeth/Mythal (taking her life force, which I believe she gives him voluntarily), and beginning his plans anew to tear down the Veil.

    Meanwhile, what does this unfinished panel mean?

    My own belief is that it has several meanings:
    • As a rough depiction of a wolf standing over the stabbed body of a dragon, it may, first and foremost, signify our victory over Corypants and his dragon.
    • But as the dragon also certainly resembles some of the elven depictions of dragons like those in the Temple of Mythal—it might also be Solas foreshadowing Mythal's fate to come.
    • In addition, the wolf's stance over the dragon can be taken several different ways—as a potential victory after battle...
    • It may also be the wolf mourning the dragon's death (which is how I see it).
    • It can also be a message from Solas to a romanced Lavellan, in which he mourns the future ahead of him (and that he must leave). I see a lot of regret in the image, myself.
    • Lastly? I think it's a big-picture message—a sign from Solas that the story is not over. 
    In other words, we will see him again. And we certainly do.


    1. I'm not sure it is a wolf in the final picture - it looks more draconic to me so I suppose it would be either Morrigan as a dragon or Mythal's guardian. The elven wolves seem to have a longer, slimmer head than in the last frame.

      I like the representation of the Inquisition as a sword though. The way it's left in the dragon both shows the victory over Corypheus and re-emphasises the way that the Inquisition's purpose has been fulfilled, coming back to the earlier conversations about whether the Inquisitor will relinquish the power they have built up.

      Really enjoying the blog by the way. Lots of intelligent discussion of the layers within the game, most of which are bizarrely more apparent the more of the game you ignore (specifically the MMO fetch quest stuff).

    2. This is a great story. Thanks for explaining this so well.

    3. As I played the game fir the second time I noticed the changes on the wall and thought I was crazy so I dug deeper and here I am. Amazed at how you analysed it. 👌👏

    4. This post wrecked me so hard. Thank you tho

    5. I don't think it really represents the victory of the Inquisition at all. Look at the sword... every other sword in the room that represents the Inquisition has the eye- this one lacks it, even in its unfinished state. In my own eyes, it seems that it is indeed ambiguous, and meant to be that way. Great article, as always


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