Thursday, August 31, 2017

"In Your Heart Shall Burn," Part 2: Finding Haven

NOTE: This post is part 2 of 2 in my analysis of the pivotal sequence of "In Your Heart Shall Burn" from Dragon Age: Inquisition. Read Part 1 here

And please note as always, that SPOILERS on major plot points and character identities will abound! 

We're only 10% into the game and already my poor Inky
needs a vacation. Perhaps Rivain?
So here we are... 

Enter Coryphypants. Pursued by a dragon.

Thanks for joining me. We're at the final stretch of "In Your Heart Shall Burn," as the Inquisitor then goes once more into the breach along with her brave companions, to fight the remaining forces, to stall Coryshits, and to wrangle that last trebuchet into position.

By the way, I think it’s interesting to note here that the Inquisitor isn’t the only one in this moment who’s actively willing to die for the village: So are our companions, whoever we brought with us.

It's never commented on, it's never acclaimed... but it should be, and it almost makes me wish we'd gotten a moment with our chosen final party, before we moved forward, although I guess this might also have over-weighted the moment a bit much dramatically so early in the game. Still, they're here, they're unswervingly loyal, they are willing to die to save the villagers, and it's one of the little memories that becomes incredibly bittersweet later on for me in Trespasser, if we don’t save the Chargers. (Think about it.)

Meanwhile, we predictably triumph (temporarily at least) in this crucial onslaught against the final waves of Red Templars (or corrupted mages, depending on your choices), and do we manage to wind up that last trebuchet to the proper position? Why, yes, yes we do.

Then the companions escape (unwillingly; they have to be ordered away), Cory arrives, and there’s that great confrontation over the Mark. And it’s worth noting that this is probably the most terrifying Corypheus is in the entire game—his entrance as a shadowy twisted figure through the fire is gorgeous, and his voice and aura of command are pretty scary (kudos to voice actor David Sterne).

But before we go on, I just want to share a specific scenario with you... 

A Brief but Vital Headcanon Break...

Walking through fire never gets old! Corypheus is probably
a real hit at parties, too: "GIVE ME ALL THE SNACKS."
This will sound nuts to some. But I always, always picture Solas as lingering here, driven to eavesdrop, and experiencing a pretty interesting if hidden crisis of conscience while doing so. I think he’s got to be hiding behind a nearby shed or wall to witness this conversation, perhaps protecting himself from the flames around him in order simply to listen. (Come on, he has to, right? How can he not?) And although it’s hidden from us on first playthrough, the one person this scene would matter most to—tremendously—would of course be Solas. 

So I absolutely think he’s present here somewhere, and listening—and it’s a fascinating thing to envision. If Solas likes our Inquisitor (or even feels the beginnings of love), he is aware that he is probably witnessing her death (and losing the Mark, the only way to seal the Rifts and heal the terrible damage he has inadvertently caused). His orb is right here only feet away, but in the hands of a pontificating madman—the orb that he used to start all of this to begin with.

Of course, if Solas is here, and listening… he’s probably not feeling all that great about himself right now. Deservedly so. What I wonder is... perhaps this makes him evaluate his situation, his choices, the things he's done that brought him to an utterly destroyed village on top of a grievously damaged world.

Perhaps he regrets these things. Perhaps not. Perhaps his only desperate thought is for the Orb (but I don't think so). Perhaps he even wishes he could join the Inquisitor in this moment of hopeless courage. Or perhaps (and this one is most likely, and what I picture)—perhaps Solas stays still and quiet, but rallies his slowly returning powers in desperation so that he can call the wolves to his will when needed most. Just in case he can still save the life of the person he has come to see as crucial or even beloved.

Villainous Monologuing 101

Now, back to the big moment, flames and all, when Cory confronts the Inquisitor, and while most of it is pretty standard villainous monologuing, I love the fact that it does go beyond that in a few key moments that betray Corypheus's own fears and anxieties (especially pleasing for me as a terminally anxious person—hey, even 1000-year-old demigods have 'em!).

The blocking of the action in the Corypheus scene is wonderful, by the way. I love the way Corypheus plays with the Inquisitor like a cat with prey, and how his dragon sort of circles itself around her, creepily, when she’s thrown to the ground.

Meanwhile, Corypheus’s monologue gets very interesting once he picks up the Inquisitor again, dangling her like a puppet:

"How YOU doin'?"
Corypants: It (the Mark) is meant to bring certainty where there is none.

I once breached the Fade in the name of another, to serve the old gods and the Empire in person. I found chaos and corruption, dead whispers. For a thousand years, I was confused. No more. I have gathered the will to return under no name but my own. To champion withered Tevinter and prevent this Blighted world. Beg that I succeed. For I have seen the throne of the gods… and it was empty.

This is it, his one human moment, if we look closely. It's telling that Corypheus only shows real emotion when he confides that he went looking to conquer the Maker “and the throne was empty.” Even a thousand years later, you can tell that Corypants still can't believe he got stood up. He's still offended by the Maker being a no-show to his “Let’s fiiiiight!” And terrified by that absence, as well... did the Maker simply abandon him (and us)? Leave? 

Or was He never there to begin with? How long, exactly, had that throne been empty?

This moment right here makes Corypheus a real person to me, a terrified child faced with an outcome he cannot accept. He even admits it: He was confused for a thousand freaking years. (Meanwhile, somewhere, Solas is smirking and going, "Really, dude?")

Darkness Inescapable

There’s a lot of very interesting additional lore stuff here that’s worth noting for future exploration—Corypheus is talking about the fact that, along with the Magisters Sidereal, he concocted a plan to enter the Fade, and from there, to enter and claim the Golden City (and the Maker’s throne).

Chantry legend says that when the Magisters accomplished this, the moment they set foot in the Golden City, their touch defiled it, and the Maker cast them out in rage and turned the Golden City black before turning his back on his children for centuries to come. It's a scenario that reminds me very much of Tolkien's mythologies from The Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion, detailing the doomed attempt by the Numenoreans to conquer the blessed isle of Valinor (Elvenhome), and of how the moment they set foot there, the island vanished, the Numenoreans perished, and a great wave destroyed their island home, guilty and innocent alike.

However, what’s interesting about Cory’s speech here is that he’s implying that the city was already black… and that the Maker’s throne was empty. There is actual emotion when Corypheus admits this to the Inquisitor, by the way, and it’s fascinating—as I mentioned above, we’re witnessing the worst reality of the true believer—not that God was angry… but that God was gone… (a scenario that is also central to Tony Kushner's gorgeous Angels in America).

My name is Lavellan. You tried to kill my village. Prepare to
die. (Also, your breath is just terrible. Sorry.)
Again, this instantly makes Corypheus a more interesting villain for me than he perhaps appears to be for most. He wants something—not just to rule, but to understand, and most of all, simply to be acknowledged (something his arrogance demands). He's a selfish child, as noted later by Solas, one who demands answers and refuses to accept that the universe just doesn't provide them. Ultimately, just as with Anne Rice's vampires, Corypheus has aged, but he hasn't learned. He's trapped in the persona of who he was a millennium ago. He is the very antithesis of the Dalish curse Dirthara-ma ("May you learn"). Corypheus has learned nothing. He never will.

In other words, he’s still a fanatic, and a thousand years of imprisonment have only sharpened his resolve to rebuild the world (and heaven itself) as he sees fit.

Huh. Sound like anyone we know? (Cough.)

Farewell to Haven

Meanwhile, after proclaiming these revelations and tossing our poor Inquisitor around through this scene, which is especially painful if they're wee Cadashes (dwarves) or delicate and fragile-looking Lavellans (Dalish elves), we look up into the soft dark skies above the deeper shadows of the Frostback Mountains. And a miracle occurs, because there, faint and fragile, shines the brief spark of Cullen’s beacon. Our people are safe.

Which means we can now Unleash Hell. And after all of Cory’s evil monologuing, it’s satisfying when the Inquisitor is able to stand up straight, make a snarky comment, adjust their sunglasses, and set off that perfectly positioned trebuchet. (In my own headcanon, my hapless Inky may or may not have backed into it and knocked the handle, but the timing was still perfect! And of course accomplished in slow-motion...)

Either way, Boom goes Haven, and the Inquisitor (off and running in perfect action hero mode) is knocked into safety via an old mine shaft or tunnel, even as Cory’s wafted away undeservingly by his pet dragon in the nick of time, all while Trevor Morris’s magnificent score makes the entire moment even more dramatic and epic than expected as we wait to see what happens next.

A fragile flame in the darkness tells us our friends and
companions are safe. Eat it, Coryphyshits.
But let's take a moment. Haven is no more. It’s a beautiful moment of symbolism if you think about it. The destruction of Haven is important and symbolic. It means anything can happen; that no one is safe; that nothing may in fact be what we think it is. And by the end of Inquisition (and especially Trespasser), boy, is that true.

Meanwhile, we experience a slow fade through darkness, then the blazing of the Mark as it awakens the Inquisitor painfully, and in confusion, to isolation and a white snowy world. We're limping and sore and cannot move quickly. We can only stumble, slowly, seeking some kind of exit. We battle demons, discover the Mark's new powers, and then emerge into the lonely, snowy mountain forests.

May the Dread Wolf Guide You

There’s a Dalish saying: “May the Dread Wolf never hear your steps.”

But... we know him better now, don’t we? We don't mind him hearing. We trust him. We maybe love him. He might even love us.

And if our Inquisitor is lost, who better than the Dread Wolf and his companions to guide her back to her loved ones? It’s an intriguing idea, because, as our Inquisitor emerges, wolves howl almost immediately (within seconds of emerging from the tunnels)… Are they howling for sustenance? Or to help us, guide us?

Me, yes, I'm a romantic. But I think they're there to help.

I believe this because, as we begin our slow and snowy trek, after passing the remains of that burning wagon, when we turn in the proper direction for the next slog? A wolf howls, loudly. As it doesn't attack (even with a pack pretty aurally present), one could certainly argue that it’s trying to guide us, to tell us where to go. In fact, to test this, I tried running in the opposite direction. No wolves. Then I heard faint wolves again—from back where I needed to go.

If our Inquisitor moves forward, after the next fade through black, wolves are now howling very loudly right in front of us if we go the right way. I tried running around again at this point, and this time when I went the wrong way, the wolves continued to howl BEHIND ME, where I needed to go.

Then, after the next and final fade through black, we’re again faced with very clear and loud wolf-howling as the Inquisitor heads to the abandoned campsite and its embers. More howls as we go forward the right way. 

What's most intriguing about this sequence is that, here, so near the end, we now hear many howls—both near and far. Are they messages? Communications to Solas that "Hey, the Inquisitor's safe, they're almost here," for instance?

Or am I simply reading too much into every single possible thing here? Um, absolutely. It's pretty much the core definition of my existence.

And please note—this isn’t an idea that’s original to me in any way. I’ve seen it discussed in Dragon Age groups and Reddit posts, and there are even a few really beautiful Dragon Age artworks that depict the idea of the wolves as guides for the Inquisitor at this point in the story, as well. I do think it’s a lovely and subtle idea, and based on what we see and hear, the case can certainly be made that the wolves are helping us in some way.

Either way, we make it to camp, collapsing just steps from the outskirts, and we're rescued with joyful relief by Cass, Cullen, and a third person I can’t quite see (but who is definitely not Solas, and who I think may be Varric). Why isn’t Solas there? I prefer to think he’s off with a magical mirror or minor orb, communing with his wolves as they wrap up their “Finding Inky” mission and report on reconnaissance. And hopefully giving them extra doggy treats for doing so.

Meanwhile, I always think it’s poignant that our companions run out to us so quickly. The implication, if you think about it, is clearly that Cassandra, Cullen and our companions have all been sad and restless, looking back toward Haven from the edge of camp, waiting and pacing and hoping… ready to assist on the slim chance that the Inquisitor survived and found them. And then we do find them, and they are waiting.

The lesson is a vital one: Haven may be gone, but for the villagers, companions and most of all, for our Inquisitor—it's also right here. It cannot be destroyed.


  1. I never thought about the wolves howling in that scene. It does seem like it means something, and in Dragon Age, just about every minute detail means something.

    1. Thanks for reading! I know it's probably a bit far-fetched, but the thing that makes me consider it is that so many of these details really do end up mattering in the end. The DA writers are sneaky that way.

  2. There is another thing Cory says here that suck with me. If you proudly proclaim that you are not afraid of him, he responds:
    “Words mortals offer hurl at the darkness. Once they were mine... they are always lies.”
    Once he was afraid of the monsters in the darkness, now he is one.

  3. Hi! I know this post is years old, but I've just recently replayed this scene. I have a couple questions regarding your headcannon of Solas hanging back to listen to the conversation between Inquisitor and Corypheus.
    1.) How would Solas escape Haven if he lingered to listen? Wouldn't the avalanche at the very least slow him down?
    2.) What does he think he will gain from listening in? He must know there's no chance of fighting/reclaiming the orb alone. Would he think listening in worth the risk of dying?

    Thank you!

    1. I thought the same thing...then I realized that it's possible that Solas could watch everything while dreaming in the Fade.

  4. For me the wolves always seem to be behind me- more like driving me forward than leading me. I don't know that it's logical to run TOWARDS wolves howling XD.


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