Musings, analyses and obsessions on Thedas and its characters, romances, relationships and conflicts. Please note that SPOILERS will abound for all three DRAGON AGE games. Meanwhile, meet me at the Herald's Rest and I'll buy the first round of maraas-lok!
Friday, July 12, 2019
Meaningful Banters: Cole and Bull after "Demands of the Qun"
COLE: I remember the little boy, too wise, eager to help. Words break in small secret spaces. He got away. He got away.
Since my Part 2 post on "Demands of the Qun" was already reaching critical mass, I decided to note some of the banters with Cole that occur afterward here, in a separate rundown below. They're revealing and, of course, often terribly sad.
No matter what choice was made, there are several conversations and banters with Bull and his companions later on, depending on the choices made during his loyalty quest, and most are fairly straightforward—sympathies for his loss if the Chargers were sacrified, or sympathy for his newfound status as Tal-Vashoth.
However, some offer intriguing and real insights into Bull, like those with Cole.
"He Got Away..."
Cole has always known what the Chargers mean to Bull; he has talked often about Krem. But he also gives us a later "you are there" moment that's really vital:
IRON BULL: Hey, Cole. Quick! What number am I thinking of?
COLE: Raw and hot, trying to open it, but just darkness. How bad, how bad? No, done now, no sense worrying. The man they hurt coughs, shaking, but sits up. Eyes wide. No, not a man, a woman, clothes torn. "You're safe now. I'm Iron Bull. What do you want me to call you?"
IRON BULL (dryly): Twelve. The number I was thinking of was "twelve."
I love this, because it's putting us inside Bull's head in the moment he saved Krem... right as Bull realizes he's lost his left eye. In typical Bull fashion, as I've noted before, Bull assesses, then moves on. Can't be helped, no sense worrying. The first thing Bull says to Krem is his name. And I'm betting everything here that it's not the name of a "role." It is who he knows himself to be in that moment.
It's a beautiful symmetry, since we know that ever after, while Krem lives, he watches that blind spot for the man who saved him. It's why Krem is always to the left of Bull, in that corner of the Tavern, after all.
But Cole's not done. He subtly supports Bull again, later on, letting him know his Tama is happy for his escape:
COLE: "Tama, how will I follow the Qun?" Her hands, strong but gentle, ruffles stubs where the horns will be. "You are strong, and your mind is sharp. You will solve problems others cannot." She smiles, but sadly.
IRON BULL: Looks like my old Tamassran was wrong. Bet she's pissed one of her kids went Tal-Vashoth.
COLE: Agents with hushed tones. Eyes stinging, forms to fill out, course corrections, reduce risk of similar losses. I remember the little boy, too wise, eager to help. Words break in small secret spaces. He got away. He got away.
IRON BULL: How could you know that? You've never even met her.
COLE: Your hurt touches hers.
IRON BULL: Well, that's, uh, creepy. But... thanks.
In "Trespasser," Cole gives us one last glimpse into Bull's mind -- at his relief that his family still lives, by saying: "Salt-spray smell of Seheron. Lost in smoke from a burning ship. Guilt at not feeling guiltier."
It's one final reminder that Bull wanted to save the Chargers. He wanted to leave the Qun. He feels guilty... because he doesn't feel guilty, deep down. He is free. He got away.
"Horns Pointing Up..."
Meanwhile, if the dreadnought is saved and the Chargers are lost, Cole still tries to do his part, to show support, especially as he realizes Bull has been torturing himself with imagined recriminations, with the imagined anger of his men, and especially of Krem:
COLE: Blood, crash of metal, but silent underneath—the horn didn't blow! That one-eyed bastard, I knew he'd betray us!
IRON BULL: Oh good, you're doing your thing again.
COLE: They died fighting. In your mind, they hated you, but you're doing it wrong! That isn't what Krem thought!
IRON BULL (slowly, unwilling to admit he wants to know): Well, then... what did he think?
COLE: "Horns pointing up."
It's a really sad moment, because even though it's better than the rage Bull is envisioning... it's worse. Bull thinks of the song he could not finish quoting up on the battlements, and dies a little more inside. Cole is upset to realize he didn't help.
IRON BULL: Oh... yeah.
COLE: No, that didn't help—I tugged on the tangle and tore it—
IRON BULL: It's all right. I'm good.
Cole gives a further, and more complex revelation later on however, in "Trespasser," letting us know that Krem never ever gave up—never stopped waiting for Bull to come back to save them: "Copper on the lips. Dalish lies dead-eyed beside me. He'll come, he'll call, he won't leave us... Horns pointing up."
But Bull never came back. And now he's gone for good. Later on, after the terrible moment in "Trespasser" when Bull reveals to us that he did exactly what we told him to (to stay loyal to the Qun), and dies for it... Afterward (if we survived, mind you, since it's a fantastic fight), Cole reveals that there was no regret in Bull's mind at all. He was calm, cold, pithed.
Of course he was. The dreadnought may have survived, but The Iron Bull died on a hilltop on The Storm Coast. Everything after that was just theatre.
Such are the demands of the Qun.
Saturday, July 6, 2019
Bull's Blind Spot: Meeting "The Demands of the Qun," Part 2
|As the cause of Bull's half-blindness—Krem is Bull's literal and metaphorical blind spot. A fact that will come back to haunt him in his loyalty quest, "The Demands of the Qun."|
THE IRON BULL: Yes. We give each other grief. It's a soldier thing. Doesn't mean anything.
COLE: It means friendship. And that you're soldiers. Krem likes it, it makes him proud.
Welcome back! Here's the second part of my analysis of Bull's loyalty quest in Dragon Age: Inquisition, "The Demands of the Qun." Please see here for Part 1, if you haven't read that yet.
Apologies in advance, as this is a really long post. However, I really wanted to include a large amount of the dialogue, both because it's important to the story (and beautifully done by Bull's writer Patrick Weekes as always), but also because it's so choice-dependent, there's a lot of interesting stuff you may not see, simply depending on what you chose when you played, or who you brought along, et cetera.
At the end of my last post, I'd examined Bull's journey up to the moment Gatt arrived at Skyhold with that fateful message that would change everything for Bull.
So here we are.
As I mentioned in Part 1, where I attempted (with questionable success) to provide a big-picture view of Bull's Qun loyalty and road to this pivotal moment—Bull has until now been successful at living a divided life.
When Bull/Hissrad left Qunandar, he was in some ways born again, with a new life, a new name, and new companions. The "Iron Bull" was, I think, a complicated persona for him to don. Because, sure, it was a role for him to play—the happy-go-lucky mercenary captain beholden to no one. But wasn't it more than a role? Wasn't it, perhaps, also the freer, purer self Bull had most wanted to be, who he actually was inside? Meanwhile, he maintained the divide: He talked the talk and backed the Qun, but he hasn't had to actually test those beliefs for a really long time.
And yet... nowhere is far enough from the Qun and its obligations. So, increasingly, as our game approaches this crucial story point, there's been a feeling of unresolved tension. Surely, at some point, the Qunari aren't going to keep letting Bull wreak joyful mayhem across Thedas forever, are they? Surely, at some point, we might begin to wonder... what will Bull do if asked to pay what the Qun demands?
Well, his loyalty quest is where we find out. And it's one of the most exciting and potentially heartbreaking moments in the game. It's definitely a pivotal character moment, both for the Inquisitor, as well as for (speaking of my own Bullmanced Inky's chosen gender) her relationship with Bull... and its consequences affect many characters and moments to follow, and they also have a potentially devastating effect on the events of the DLC "Trespasser."
And it all starts here.
|It's a pretty nice, subtle detail that the entire focus of this quest's introduction is Krem's vulnerability.|
It's no accident that as we begin The Iron Bull's crucial loyalty quest "The Demands of the Qun," the very first thing we see is a sweet and funny cutscene as Bull spars with Krem. Krem keeps missing one particular defensive parry, and Bull is frustrated when Krem can't seem to see or block it fast enough.
I want to pause for a second here to note the brilliance of this on a metaphorical level—it's a pretty nice, subtle detail that the entire focus of this introduction is Krem's vulnerability... and that Bull is upset at how Krem keeps leaving himself unprotected, open to harm or death.
"Aw, come on, Krem!" he grouses. "I'm working my ass off trying to get you to see that move!"
Krem grins, setting himself for the next attack, already anticipating the next blow. "You've still got plenty of ass left, Chief!" he teases. Then he sees the Inquisitor's on the scene, and snaps to formality. "Uh, Your Worship."
One of my favorite things about Lieutenant Cremisius Aclassi, second-in-command of the Chargers, is his constant attention to etiquette, and to what's appropriate depending on the situation at hand. His letters are models of competence, and he's unfailingly polite in all of his interactions with the Inquisitor, although he relaxes a bit in the chats in the tavern. Still, only with Bull do we get a glimpse of what a wise-ass Krem can be, of his funnier, more whimsical side—of the guy who would, for instance, sew wings onto little stuffed nugs before throwing them from a catapult—just to see what might happen.
Now, Krem instantly sobers as Bull turns to us, just as swiftly all business. "Glad you came by," says Bull. "I got a letter from my contacts in the Ben-Hassrath. Already verified it with Red."
The Inquisitor may ask an optional question here, wondering if Bull would like to discuss the situation alone, but Bull waves her away.
Bull shrugs. "Not like I was hiding it from my boys. Besides, right now, I need to hit something."
Krem's still full of quiet, affectionate sass. "You know they've got training dummies, Chief!"
Bull glances dryly over at him, and he's funny but also genuinely formidable as he replies, "The training dummy might actually defend itself against the shield bash." He looks back at the Inquisitor. "Anyway, the Ben-Hassrath letter..."
Krem stands to the left of Bull, quiet and simply watching closely. He looks alert, impossibly handsome, and very young.
|Because I played DAO and listened closely to Sten's chats with Alistair and Leliana, this was where alarms were blaring and klaxons were clanging in my head and I was generally shrieking ALERT ALERT ALERT even on my first playthrough.|
The Inquisitor continues the discussion—at this point, she can ask what the letter said, point out that Bull was "just supposed to watch," or express unhappiness with the general situation.
If she asks what it said, Bull responds that the Ben-Hassrath have been reading his reports, and they don't like Corypants or the Venatori (not exactly a news flash), "and they really don't like Red Lyrium."
After a weighty pause, Bull notes, with emphasis: "They're ready to work with us. With you, Boss. The Qunari and the Inquisition, joining forces."
(Yes, because I played DAO and listened closely to Sten's chats with Alistair and Leliana, this was where alarms were blaring and klaxons were clanging in my head and I was generally shrieking ALERT ALERT ALERT inwardly even on my very first playthrough.)
Regardless, the Inky responds one of three ways:
- I don't trust them.
- I'm interested. (The alliance could be a powerful thing.)
- This doesn't interest me.
I love the fact that if we express suspicion with "I don't trust them," Bull gives us slight approval. He's acknowledging our cautiousness there. Meanwhile, he responds to interest with, "My people have never made a full-blown alliance with a foreign power before. This would be a big step."
Then comes one of my favorite character shots of Bull, when he's in full profile, paused, every inch the mercenary warrior, with the thickly muscled shoulders and powerful upper back muscles on full display (as well as the silvery scars that cross it—I counted over a dozen just in this one shot), metallic eyepatch gleaming, horns shimmering slightly. It's just quintessential Bull, and voice actor Freddie Prinze, Jr.'s voice matches that sense of Bull's sheer force, charisma and confidence as he outlines the offer by the Qun.
|"Always wanted to see one of those big warships in action," Krem says, smiling. And my heart breaks.|
Bull explains that the Qunari have discovered a massive Red Lyrium shipping operation out on the Storm Coast.
Krem, now sparring again with Bull, explains that the Ben-Hassrath want to join with the Inquisition to hit the shipping operation hard by land and sea, in coordination with one of the Qunari dreadnoughts.
"Always wanted to see one of those big warships in action," Krem says, smiling. And my heart breaks, revisiting this now, and knowing what it portends.
Bull frowns slightly, then hits him again, hard (MORE FORESHADOWING!), and Krem stumbles back slightly. "Did you see that?" asks Bull, frustrated. Krem looks vulnerable and young again here, and also a little off-balance from the hit, and perhaps a little embarrassed to still not be getting the moves down.
"Go get some water," growls Bull in that way he has that's all about hiding his affection underneath the pretense of toughness.
Krem leaves, and Bull continues to outline the situation. "They're worried about tipping the smugglers, so no army," Bull notes. "My Chargers, you, maybe some backup."
The Inquisitor can agree or disagree right away here ("I'll do it" or "I don't trust Qunari"), or ask for additional information:
INQUISITOR: What are they offering? (What does this alliance really get us?)
IRON BULL: They wouldn't use the word 'alliance' if they didn't mean it.
[ME: OH YES THEY FREAKING WOULD.]
IRON BULL: ...Naval power. More Ben-Hassrath reports. Qunari soldiers pointed at the Venatori... it could do a lot of good.
INQUISITOR: Something wrong? (You don't seem entirely happy about this.)
IRON BULL: No, I'm good. It's, uh... I'm used to them being... over there. It's been awhile.
INQUISITOR: You don't want them to spread? (I thought the Qunari wanted to extend their reach to the whole world.)
IRON BULL: Yeah. Just didn't think I'd see it. Look, the Qun answers a lot of questions. It's a good life for a lot of people. But it's a big change. And a lot of folks here wouldn't do so well under that kind of life.
IRON BULL: I guess it's not like we're converting. This is just us joining forces against Corypheus. On that front, I think we're good.
|Bull admits here that he's gotten awfully used to the Qun and its leadership being remote, distant... "over there" at a safe distance, to receive his reports. Not here, not right in front of him, at Skyhold itself.|
So let's pause again, here. We know Bull's been at least partly playing a role in his time with the Inquisition, and that part of him still is, right here and now. Sometimes he's told the truth. Sometimes, he's lied. His candor here is therefore both interesting and suspect: Is he pretending ambivalence? Or is he being serious?
I kind of think—as happens so often with Bull—that it's both. The best lies are always entrenched in truth, and I think Bull, knowing that, chooses truth wherever he can. They work well with the exaggerated "Bull persona" he's pushing, and appearances of candor and vulnerability are also important and shore up points among those around him for additional trust. So expressing this is a win-win situation for him, which is why I think he's being honest.
And it's kind of a big moment, here, as Bull admits everything he's learned from his interactions among the Inquisition—that he doesn't really follow the idea of world conversion to the Qun anymore. And that he's used to the Qun and its leadership being remote, distant... "over there." Not here. Not present at Skyhold, embodied in his past in the form of his onetime friend (and first semi-adopted son) Gatt.
However, of course, I also think he's still walking that line, playing both sides. Bull knows it's to his advantage, and to the Qun's, for him to appear frank and discombobulated here, for him to admit to uncertainty. It again reinforces that his first loyalty (real or not) is to the Inquisitor.
Meanwhile, the discussion continues. If the Inquisitor goes forward, she picks "I'll do it," saying, "I think the Inquisition could use some help from the Qunari."
"Good," Bull replies, all business. "I'll pass on word to Cullen and Red. We can set up the meeting whenever you're ready."
The moment ends with an interesting physical choice for Bull. He walks away mid-sentence, then tilts his head back toward the Inquisitor in that "I'm studying you sharply" way, just when we might least expect it. Then he walks off as the scene goes black.
If the Inquisitor says it's too risky and denies Bull's request, Bull's response is typically calm and persuasive: "Your call, Boss. It feels weird to me too. But I don't think they'd lie about this." Then he notes that in case the Inky changes their mind, he's marked the meeting point on the map in the War Room.
|In Gatt, we're not witnessing Bull meeting a casual friend, but someone he rescued, cared about, and looked after.|
Then when we go to the Storm Coast, we find ourselves reconnoitering with Bull and the Chargers, and Gatt, an elven viddathari (a follower of the Qun of a different race), walks up to greet Bull. Gatt is a green-eyed young man, light and quick, and with a voice to match.
As Gatt approaches, he's courteous and professional, but he's openly pleased to see Bull. "Good to see you again, Hissrad," he says.
"Gatt!" Bull exclaims, equally pleased. "Last I heard, you were still in Seheron."
Gatt smiles. "They finally decided I'd calmed down enough to go back out into the world."
Bull introduces us to Gatt, noting that they'd worked together in Seheron. We'll find out later that their friendship goes back much, much farther than that. We're not witnessing Bull meeting a casual friend, but someone he rescued, cared about, and looked after. And for Gatt, Bull isn't just some guy he worked with a decade back—to Gatt, Bull was a rescuer, mentor, and friend—and, I believe, the closest thing he'd had to a father since he was stolen and enslaved in Tevinter.
"It's a pleasure to meet you, Inquisitor. Hissrad's reports say you're doing good work."
Here, we can ask Gatt about Bull's name if we choose to. "Iron Bull's name is Hissrad?"
"Under the Qun, we use titles, not names," notes Gatt.
"My title was 'Hissrad' because I was assigned to secret work," says Bull genially. "You can translate that as 'Keeper of Illusions,' or..."
"Liar," says Gatt flatly. "It means 'liar.'"
Bull doesn't look or sound pleased at this overly frank sharing of information. "Well, you don't have to say it like that," he says, giving Gatt an exasperated look.
This is an interesting little moment. I think what we're seeing here, and over the next few minutes between them, is Gatt openly trying to drive a little bit of a wedge between Bull and the Inquisitor. It's human and understandable, but I think Gatt is simply jealous here, and saddened at the absence of his friend for a decade—now farther away than ever, and swallowed up by some rogue religious movement that involves magic and demons—and bas. Gatt wants the Inquisitor to know Bull is a liar, that the Ben-Hassrath are very aware of both sides of those reports Bull's been sending, and he wants the Inquisitor to remember that, first and foremost, Bull belongs to the Qun.
There's more here to Gatt than meets the eye, so I'll be returning to discussing him a bit farther on... he's just as important as Krem here, in his own way, and a deliberate parallel.
Meanwhile, the Inquisitor can say they're looking forward to working together (among options, to which Gatt will say he hopes this will help "both our peoples"), or grudgingly say they're only there to stop Tevinter. In my personal favorite response, the Inquisitor can also react with acknowledgment of Bull as a spy, saying, "It's so nice to hear friends say good things about me in their secret spy reports."
"He does," says Gatt. "But they aren't really secret, are they?"
And here it is, the pushback I think Bull had been waiting for, albeit from an unexpected source. "Look..." begins Bull, and Gatt waves away his apprehension.
"Relax. Unlike our superiors, I know how it works out here." And then he adds, with emphasis, "Tevinter is dangerous enough without the influence of this Venatori cult."
If Dorian's in your party, he'll respond with "Yes. Filthy, decadent brutes, the lot of them. I'm certain life would be much better for all of us under the Qun."
"It was for me," says Gatt. "After the Qunari rescued me from slavery in Tevinter. I was eight. The Qun isn't perfect, but it gave me a better life."
Dorian still can't let it go. "Yes, one free from all that pointless free will and independent thought. Such an improvement."
The Inky can respond with a variety of options there, supporting Bull, Dorian, neither, or simply asking everyone to stay focused on the mission at hand. After which, Dorian will grudgingly stand down. What I think is subtly fun here from a writing standpoint is that both Dorian and Solas, depending on who you bring, echo the same viewpoint—that safety under the Qun is nothing compared to the loss of free will and independent thought.
Meanwhile, Gatt remains civil and unperturbed. "I'm not here to convert anyone," he says. "All I care about is stopping this red lyrium from reaching Minrathous."
"With this stuff," adds Bull, "The Vints could make their slaves into an army of magical freaks. We could lose Seheron... and see a giant Tevinter army come marching back down here."
"The Ben-Hassrath agree," says Gatt. "That's why we're here."
Gatt goes on to explain the situation, and that the Qunari dreadnought is safely out of view, and out of range of any Venatori mages on shore. The mission will require the elimination of the Venatori camp onshore, and then a signal will be sent up for the dreadnought so that it can come in and eliminate the smugglers' ship.
We have the option to ask Bull his opinion here, and he admits that he's not sure. "I've never liked covering a dreadnought run. Too many ways for crap to go wrong. If our scouts underestimate enemy numbers, we're dead. If we can't lock down the Venatori mages, the ship is dead. It's risky."
"Riskier than letting red lyrium into Minrathous?" asks Gatt.
The Inquisitor can then ask about such aspects as what will happen if the ship has mages, why they shouldn't simply attack at sea, or why use a small force and not a large one in this mission... Gatt is matter-of-fact about the remote likelihood of more than two or three mages on board the Venatori ship (and the dreadnought will be able to take them out quickly), but he does raise the key detail that Venatori mages on land would be a different matter, as the dreadnought would be destroyed fairly quickly from cover at minimal risk to the mages. When the Inquisitor asks about staging the whole operation by sea, in open water, Gatt notes that the smugglers' ship may not be as powerful as the dreadnought, but it's much faster and would be able to easily outrun the dreadnought. "We need to catch them close to shore," Gatt emphasizes.
When questioned on using a small force (the adventuring party and Chargers, versus the Inquisition forces), Gatt says formal Inquisition soldiers and a larger force would have been too noticeable, and the Venatori would have simply run from the prospect of engagement, postponing to a new time and location that their spies might not be able to uncover. "This is risky, yes," Gatt says. "But it's our best chance to destroy the shipping operation permanently."
At this point, the Inquisitor agrees to get going on the operation, and Gatt notes that there are two potential locations for the Venatori camps guarding the shore—a hilltop across the way, to the left, or a hilltop farther down the cliffs, to his right.
Bull notes that he'll stick with the Inquisitor and their small party, while the Chargers take the other hilltop under Krem's leadership.
We can then talk to Gatt in more detail before going to tell Bull we're ready to move forward with the quest.
|Before Bull rescued Krem, the son of his heart and second-in-command, there was Gatt, the boy he rescued from slavery, torture, and abuse so long ago.|
The more I've watched these scenes, the more I have found tremendous sympathy and pity for Gatt.
It's easy to see Krem as special to Bull, and he is special—the boy Bull rescued so long ago, and who has become his second in command, his friend, and his spiritual son.
But before Krem, there was Gatt.
Gatt was also a vulnerable person in a terrible situation, just as Krem was later—one who was rescued at real danger to himself by a larger-than-life, heroic Bull years ago. Gatt had been a brutally enslaved servant of a Tevinter magister—one who hurt him, scared him, sexually abused him, and who even used him for magical experimentation.
Then came the rescue aboard ship off the coast of Seheron. Confusion, violence, fear, then freedom, as a massive horned man held out a hand and told him he was safe.
Remember, Gatt was eight years old.
After this, by his own accounts, he'd been enraged, angry, and grieving. The little boy wanted to go back to Tevinter, to find and free his family still enslaved there—a detail that is painful for me to imagine. Little Gatt was only eight—how long had he been separated from his family, from his parents? A year, two, more? Now he was free, and yet not entirely free, because he couldn't go back and rescue his mother, no matter how he dreamed to do so. He was too young, too small, and the Qun already knew it had uses for him. So he had two choices, trapped in a strange and alien culture: To fight, or to submit. So he accepted his circumstances, learned about the Qun, and worked to find a place for himself within its structure. Meanwhile, the Qunari sharpened his vengeance into a weapon for the Ben-Hassrath to wield, with Bull there to kindly help him overcome his rage and anger (naming him for explosive gaatlok as a reminder), into something more approaching calmness.
So Gatt swallowed his rage and grew up, and in a decade or so began to work with the Ben-Hassrath, and then his hero Hissrad, as well, in Seheron. After the terrible events there, when Bull lost his best friend and succumbed to PTSD, surrendering himself and his own mind to the reeducators, there was a fairly scary review and perhaps even some sort of trial or hearing about Hissrad's actions, and we know this because Gatt himself wrote a post-deposition letter supporting Bull (and openly chiding the Qun's decisions). (Note: We learn this in World of Thedas, Volume II.)
What's especially interesting about this letter is not just what it reveals about Bull, but of course, about Gatt himself. For me, the letter changed everything I'd assumed about Gatt, because it's a situation in which he is plainly showing his love and respect for Bull, that he's not a mindless convert, and in which he is openly speaking out against the Qun and its judgment of Bull, and risking everything to do so.
In the letter, Gatt expresses open hostility at Bull's situation, and describes Bull's long service in Seheron as one constantly marked by anger as well—anger at the Tal-Vashoth, anger at the dead civilians and children, anger at Gatt's Tevinter enslavers. Gatt knows that in writing this letter, he's risking more sanctions from the Qun, marking himself as "needing improvement" (a scary phrase under the Qun, since rectification might include anything from reeducation and torture, to Qamek). But Gatt loves and idolizes Bull, and he wants to speak up for this man who saved his life:
...The difference between [Hissrad] and me is that he's never known anything else. He grew up in this orderly world you all made, and it all makes sense to him, people make sense, and he thinks that if he does the right thing, then everything will work. He's been in Seheron for ten years trying to make everything work, telling himself that he's the tool you made him to be, doing the job he was meant to do. He hunted down and killed his old commander [who had gone Tal-Vashoth]..... There are times I'm grateful for those Tevinter mages coming in to attack. At least Hissrad doesn't have to argue with himself after he kills them.
He's a good man. He believes in you. You owe him better than what you've done to him.
—Gatt (from The World of Thedas II, page 241)The risk Gatt takes here adds so much richness and complexity to his appearance in Dragon Age: Inquisition. Some people think the entire loyalty mission is a trap. More on that farther down, but me, I think it's sadder than that—I think Gatt's there, personally, because he knows how close to the edge Bull has already gone... and he wants to save his friend. For Gatt, the Inquisition, like the world, is simply one more temptation for Bull to attempt to pull from where he belongs—under the Qun.
Meanwhile, all that stuff is in the past, and everyone's here with a job to do for the Qun. Gatt watches Bull intently.
"Just waiting on you and Hissrad—or 'Iron Bull,'" Gatt says to us (and you can hear the air quotes in his dry voice). "I guess."
Conversations with Gatt
We then get the opportunity to have a surprisingly detailed and lengthy conversation with Gatt if we desire, before we set out on our mission, and it's one of my favorites in the game—an interesting and revealing conversation that includes some of the background details I mentioned about Gatt above, as well as providing a pretty open and frank look at what Gatt's emotions were, at the time and in the years since:
INQUISITOR: You knew Iron Bull back when he fought in Seheron?
GATT: Yes. He led the group that freed me. I was a magister's slave, and when the magister went to Seheron, he brought me along.
There's a very small and yet heartbreaking pause there...
GATT: ...For company. Iron Bull and his men attacked my master's ship and killed him, as well as his soldiers. Bull set me free.
INQUISITOR: And then you decided to start following the Qun after that?
GATT: What do you think? I had just watched a giant, horned warrior kill the magister who hurt me.
INQUISITOR: He never told me about this.
GATT: (dryly) One of the few things he hasn't shared with you, I gather.
Gatt's voice becomes a little mocking, and maybe a little bitter, too.
GATT: "Sure, Bull. Share the secret Ben-Hassrath reports, but keep that bit where you saved the elf boy to yourself."
INQUISITOR: Is Bull going to get in trouble for passing those reports on?
GATT: The Ben-Hassrath aren't pleased with how forthcoming Bull has been... but he was one of their best agents. He kept the streets clean in Seheron longer than anyone before him, or after. He fought until it nearly killed him. The Ben-Hassrath trust him enough to accept how he joined the Inquisition, even if they don't like it. (A beat.) Besides, they hate to discard a tool that might still have some use left in it. That's why I have a job.
Gatt's matter-of-fact acceptance that he, too, is a less than perfect tool that (like Bull) "might still have some use in it" is deeply sad to me. But for him it's life as he knows it.
INQUISITOR: It sounds like following the Qun hasn't always been easy.
GATT: I had a temper. Bull's nickname for me, "Gatt," comes from Gaatlok, the explosive power in Qunari cannons. I was so angry when I was first freed. I wanted revenge. I wanted to find my family, still enslaved in Minrathous. I thought about leaving when the Qun didn't tell me what I wanted to hear. But I didn't.
INQUISITOR: Why not?
GATT: The Qunari were always ready to listen, to teach. They cared for me as much as one of their own. And if I leave, the parts of the Qun that I don't like are never going to change.
INQUISITOR: How did an elf end up working for the Qunari out here?
GATT: The Ben-Hassrath usually pick elves or humans to work outside of Qunandar. We're a little harder to spot. I've worked in Orlais and Nevarra, but only for a few years now.
INQUISITOR: What did you do before that?
GATT: When I was old enough, I fought Tevinter forces in Seheron. I was too angry to do much else. It took me a long time to accept the Qun, to get past justice, to purpose. Some days are still difficult.
INQUISITOR: No one's actually detailed how an alliance with the Qunari will help the Inquisition.
GATT: The answer to that is above my rank... but the Qunari don't really bargain. They don't know how. I doubt you want Qunari troops stomping around your stronghold, and you're too far away for supplies to be useful. You'd get more use out of our ships, I imagine... and the agents we've got spread across Thedas. We know a lot more than what Bull sees in those reports he's been forwarding to your spymaster.
While I noted above that Gatt is obviously not happy about Bull's work with the Inquisition, and may even be attempting to zing him for it now and then, this is where I think we can see that nevertheless, he remains loyal. I think all this stuff about "Bull can't keep his mouth shut" and "the Qun isn't happy with him right now" is exactly the company line he has been asked to sell, as an important part of the fallacy that Bull has been totally transparent with us—the world's worst spy. When, of course, I think Bull's been extremely effective, and has been telling them far more than he (or Gatt) lets on here.
But of course, yet again, truth and lies are mixed here in perfect symmetry. Because the Qun does suspect that Bull is on the edge of being compromised. The Qun is concerned about his loyalties.
INQUISITOR: Do you have a minute to talk about the Qun?
GATT: I'm a spy, Inquisitor, not a teacher. I'm not interested in converting anyone or debating the philosophy. But I suppose it would make for an interesting report to hear the Inquisitor's opinion of the Qun...
The Inquisitor can answer with admiration, distrust, or puzzlement.
GATT: It's a very different way of life. It's... fair, at least. That's not something you can say out in this world very often. I like the simplicity. I like knowing my place and knowing that it's the right place. Other parts, I've struggled with, myself.
I always wish the Inquisitor had thanked Gatt here, for being so forthcoming about himself. I love that he's willing to admit that following the Qun has sometimes been hard for him, that in fact, part of the reason he stays is so he can help to fix the parts that don't work for him.
But the Inquisitor simply returns to business.
INQUISITOR: I'll let you know when we're ready.
GATT: I'll await your pleasure, Inquisitor.
It's so easy to see Gatt as just a symbol, but in this scene he demonstrates a kind of subtle courage. He's astonishingly open with us; he's polite and courteous, and willing to tell us what has shaped him into a follower of the Qun. And key to that information is the revelation that Bull was his savior. Now he's here to try to return the favor.
|By the time the Chargers have that last meeting on the hilltop with Bull, we know them as people. So when Krem jokes with Bull about "mothering" him, or Dalish protests, "I'm not a mage!" it's bittersweet if you know what may lie ahead for them.|
On the other side of the clearing, Bull and the Chargers wait not far away. Bull looks to Krem.
IRON BULL: Once they're down, send up your signal. That'll let the dreadnought know it's safe to come in.
KREM: Understood, Chief.
IRON BULL: Remember, you're gonna want a volley to start, but don't get suckered into fighting at range. They've got mages.
KREM: It's all right. We've got a mage of our own.
DALISH (fooling no one): I'm not a mage!
IRON BULL: Get in close and take their enchanter down before he takes over the battlefield.
SKINNER: He'll be dead before he knows it.
IRON BULL: Just... pay attention, all right? The Vints want this red lyrium shipment bad.
KREM: Yes, I know. Thanks, Mother.
IRON BULL: Qunari don't have mothers, remember?
KREM: We'll be fine, Chief.
IRON BULL: All right, Chargers! Horns up!
KREM: Horns up!
IRON BULL: Ready whenever you are, Boss.
This last little interlude is so important, right up to Krem teasing Bull about being 'Mother.' Because, of course, it's no joke. Bull is Krem's parent in every way that matters. And both of them know it, and this is a last, bittersweet reminder of that fact before they go off to risk their lives. We get the other little glimpses of the lovable Chargers, too, with Dalish protesting yet again that she's "not a mage!" ("IT'S A BOW") and more.
Then when all is ready, Bull raises his chin to his scrappy little mercenary band, these people he's rescued, one by one, and made into a family over the past decade. Seheron feels very far away, and yet close enough to touch.
"Chargers!" says Bull. "Hit 'em hard and hit 'em fast! When this is over, drinks are on me!"
Krem bows formally to Bull, right fist over his heart. For some reason, upon rewatching, this little beautiful gesture really gets me.
Then Krem calls for the march: "Chargers, double-time! Let's move!"
|The companions treat Gatt with curiosity and also, in Solas's case, with anger for what he represents. To Solas, a freer of slaves himself, the idea of a former slave choosing to surrender their own free will is repugnant and terrifying.|
Gatt gives Bull a knowing look as the Chargers depart.
GATT: You gave your Chargers the easier target.
IRON BULL: You think?
GATT: Lower and farther from the smugglers' ship? It's much less likely to be heavily defended.
IRON BULL: Suppose we'll do the heavy lifting, then. Just like old times. (he chuckles)
GATT: Be careful. My agents said to expect opposition ahead of the main camp.
IRON BULL: We've all done this a few times, Gatt.
GATT: You've been living outside the Qun for years now, (pointedly) "Iron Bull." Just wanted to make sure your reflexes hadn't gotten as soft as the rest of you.
IRON BULL (mildly): Ouch.
After the fight with the encamped Vints, if Cole is with the group, Gatt may show curiosity about him, or vice versa:
GATT: Iron Bull says you're a demon.
COLE: I'm trying not to be. Sometimes it's hard. I want to kill a lot of people, but I don't.
GATT: Because the Inquisitor has bound you?
COLE: Because it's not right.
GATT: Bull, how can you work with a demon?
BULL: He's all right.
Of course, at this point, Bull loves Cole almost as much as Gatt or Krem. Cole is arguably Bull's latest adopted child, but there's no way he can possibly explain that to Gatt. ("You may be a weird, squirrelly kid," Bull said to Cole. "But you're my weird, squirrelly kid.")
There's another version of this banter, too, and in this one, Cole speaks first, doing that thing he does where he pulls a living memory right out of Gatt's mind—a terrifying one:
COLE: Heart hammering, brush of breath at the base of my back. He licks his thumb before turning the page. (to Gatt) He never finished. You don't have a demon inside you. You don't have to wonder anymore.
GATT (anguished): Stop. Just... stop.
IRON BULL: Cole, knock it off. People who follow the Qun get nervous around demons, remember?
GATT (accusingly): Bull, how can you work with a demon?
IRON BULL: He's all right.
Bull doesn't say more than that. There's no point.
Talking with the Other Companions
Gatt's interactions with the other companions are also notable. He continues to have to rein in his bitterness to Dorian, for instance:
GATT: You must wish you were back in Tevinter, mage. No soldiers to guard you here. No slaves to wait on you.
DORIAN: It's the lack of fashion that really strikes fear into my heart.
GATT: You know nothing of fear.
DORIAN: And do you intend to teach me?
GATT: No. You serve the Inquisition, and the Ben-Hassrath wish an alliance. For now, that is enough.
Although Gatt's not there to recruit anyone, the sight of Sera seems to make him think they may have a common bond.
GATT: You're not Dalish. Were you confined to an alienage as a child?
SERA: Not for bloody long.
GATT: You may be interested to know that Qunandar treats our kind far better than Ferelden or Orlais.
SERA: Nope. Not interested in how YOU want to treat ME.
GATT: Perhaps another time, then.
Meanwhile, Solas is almost hilariously grumpy and supercilious here, and he's openly rude to poor Gatt, who (bless his heart) has no idea why this odd elven apostate is giving him attitude. It's one of those little glimpses of how angry and frustrated Solas still is, inside, and of that obdurate refusal to accept some things as they are. The young man before him is not evil, and has survived terrible things, but all Solas can see is his own willingness to betray himself. The Solas who felt love and empathy for the Qunari baker who added a secret pinch of sugar to her dough cannot see Gatt as a person here.
GATT: I don't see any tattoos, but you're carrying a staff. Are you from a Chantry circle?
SOLAS: No. And I would prefer not to discuss it.
GATT: Have I done something to offend you?
SOLAS: You joined the Qun.
GATT: After they rescued me from slavery.
SOLAS: And put you into something worse. A slave may always struggle for freedom. But you among the Qun have been taught not to think.
IRON BULL: Solas. Not the time.
My favorite aspect of this is how quietly Bull speaks to Solas, who immediately ceases. It's one of those great little moments in which we see that, as always, beneath the surface Solas is still that passionate firebrand, the revolutionary who wants to free the world. Bull's quiet forbearance here is also a nice foreshadowing of their later friendship, should Bull go Tal-Vashoth.
Meanwhile, Gatt's conversation with Vivienne is brief, and to the point, and oddly funny (it makes me laugh that the one person Gatt would find "reasonable" would be our scary Circle mage).
GATT: Now that the Circles have fallen, it must please you to wield your power so freely, mage.
VIVIENNE: Quite the reverse. Mages are dangerous, and their power makes them feared. The Circles protected us.
GATT: You sound almost reasonable.
These interludes end with Bull looking off toward the distance, and Gatt asking whether he can see "his mercenaries" in position yet.
Bull responds that they'll probably be able to see them from the camps farther down, and Gatt catches on that he's concerned. "Worried?" he asks, and Bull looks at him. "They're my men," he says quietly. "I've been with some of them for years."
|"There's the dreadnought. That brings back memories," says Bull. He's still smiling. Everything's going well.|
After taking out the final encampment, they arrive to the crest of a green hill overlooking the cliffs and sea. When Iron Bull notes that they're clear, Gatt signals the dreadnought. The flare goes up, and we can see, through the misty sea, the smugglers' ship approaching.
Bull smiles. "Chargers already sent theirs up. See 'em down there?" And there's a brief cut to the Chargers, calm and collected after the battle, dead bodies of their foes on the green grass around them.
"I knew you gave them the easier job," says Gatt. He's the jealous little boy again, and Bull gives that wordless smile. He's not arguing. Then we hear the clear ringing of the sea-bell as the dreadnought emerges closer to shore through the mist.
"There's the dreadnought. That brings back memories," says Bull. He's still smiling. Everything's going well. The dreadnought fires, and easily sinks the smugglers' vessel, and Bull laughs.
Then his face changes and he takes a few steps back. "Crap."
On the shore, a small force approaches the opposite hilltop—four Venatori mages, two soldiers. The Chargers, all business, snap into defensive positions.
Here, the Inquisitor can comment on how many Venatori there are, calmly suggest the Chargers' retreat, or express outright fear that the Chargers will be killed.
GATT: Your men need to hold that position, Bull.
IRON BULL: They do that, they're dead.
GATT: And if they don't, the Venatori retake it, and the dreadnought is dead. You'd be throwing away an alliance between the Inquisition and the Qunari! You'd be declaring yourself Tal-Vashoth.
Bull glares at him, and Gatt glares back, standing his ground.
GATT: With all you've given the Inquisition, half the Ben-Hassrath think you've betrayed us already! I stood up for you, Hissrad! I told them you would never become Tal-Vashoth!
IRON BULL: They're my men.
GATT (softly, and with real sympathy): I know. But you need to do what's right, Hissrad... for this alliance, and for the Qun.
First off, let's take a look at Gatt's dialogue here. It's vital, I feel, to note that the rest of the time, he has dutifully, if somewhat wryly, conceded his friend's new name, calling him "Iron Bull" or Bull. But here, when it matters, he uses the only name he really knows for his friend—Hissrad. To him, "The Iron Bull" is simply a somewhat tiresome character Bull is playing—a reality Bull even acknowledges not long after these events, even if the Chargers live. For Gatt, there is no Bull, there is only Hissrad.
It's also worth noting that as we view these events taking place, while it may be natural for many of us to oppose Gatt, and to dislike what he stands for as a proponent for killing the Chargers, he's caught in a tough place, himself, and I think he's openly, genuinely sympathetic about the choice before his friend. Gatt knows it's horrible. And he really does seem to regret the decision before them, and how agonizing this decision is for his friend.
But. This is a demand of the Qun. For Gatt, there's no question of what is right here. Bull must sacrifice his men.
Bull then faces that nightmare choice: Choose the Qun, and lose his family, his son Krem... or Choose his family... and lose the Qun, his country, his belief system, his sense of pride in who he is. And lose this friend before him, who is also a sort of son, who is also a child he had rescued so long ago.
|Bull faces a nightmare choice: Choose the Qun, and lose his family... or choose his family... and lose the Qun.|
Bull turns to the Inquisitor in anguished indecision, openly asking them to make a choice that he cannot. To me, this isn't just necessary game mechanics; it's profoundly in-character. Bull's life is embedded in ritual, routine, chain of command, all elements even more emphasized by his upbringing under the Qun. He cannot make this decision because it is not his decision to make: The Inquisitor is his Commander, his "Boss."
We have arrived at the crossroads at last, and here's the choice, as we can either tell Bull to "Save the dreadnought" and stay Qun-loyal as the Chargers die... or "Save your men," which will mean a final break for Bull from the Qun... but Krem and his self-made family will live.
From a design perspective, I love that in this brief space, as we pause for this decision... we can see the waving lush plants and flowers of the hilltop around them. We can hear the rain, the waves and sweet birdsong. It's an oddly beautiful yet brutal moment.
|This is a demand of the Qun. For Gatt, there's no question of what is right here. Bull must sacrifice his men.|
"Save your men."
If we choose to save the Chargers, the Inquisitor calls the retreat, even as Gatt protests. Bull ignores him and blasts the horn. The Chargers retreat calmly and safely, well before the Venatori arrive.
"They're falling back," notes Bull.
Gatt has lost all composure, and for the first time, we can clearly see the fierce anger that he told us about. He's upset, and walking in circles, struggling to compose himself. "All these years, Hissrad, and you throw away all that you are. For what? For this? For them?" Here, at last, the contempt is no longer veiled, but open. We are not people to Gatt. Krem and the Chargers are not people to Gatt. Only Hissrad... who has just thrown his life away.
The Inquisitor has three options here, to apologize to Gatt, to tell Gatt to call Bull by his self-given name (to which Gatt replies sadly, "I suppose it is"), or to try to salvage things, saying we can "make this up to your people," at which Bull openly gives disapproval. Gatt refuses, then walks away calmly, not even staying to watch the outcome.
On the shore, the Venatori mages send coordinated spell blasts at the doomed dreadnought, which explodes a few seconds later, (as Bull notes, evidently by design when at risk of capture or sinking).
"Come on," says Bull. "Let's get back to my boys." It's a little thing, but I love that Bull uses this term here. A reminder that the Chargers are his children, his "boys"—not just his "men," a term he used mostly for Gatt's benefit.
The Living Chargers, and the Qunari Who Die
I admit that what makes this choice a little too easy is that we know and love the Chargers. We've talked with them, drank with them, sang the Chargers song with them.
But we don't see the Qunari soldiers on the dreadnought. We don't see the moment they realize they are about to die—their reactions of resolve, bravery or fear. It would have been interesting to get just a single glimpse of the Qunari on the dreadnought so that we could see the real people who were about to die because of our choice here.
Meanwhile, we fade to black after the ship blows up... to find that Bull and the Inquisitor are back by the training area. Gatt walks up.
Gatt's manner is calm once more. He's civil and regretful, but the bitterness is still palpable. "Inquisitor, it is my duty to inform you that there will be no alliance between our peoples. Nor will you be receiving any more Ben-Hassrath reports from your Tal-Vashoth ally."
Bull looks keenly at Gatt. "You under orders to kill me, Gatt?" I think this question has to hurt Gatt so much, even if he doesn't show it. Gatt doesn't want to kill Bull... even if he were able to, and he knows he'd be the loser in that scenario.
"No. The Ben-Hassrath have already lost one good man," he says softly. "They'd rather not lose two."
It is a last, subtle show of respect, that acknowledgement that Bull is "a good man." Gatt bows slightly, then walks away.
Bull looks sad. "So much for that."
The Inquisitor can respond with pride, or with a businesslike suggestion to work fast to minimize losses, and Bull approves. Or we can ask him if he's all right, and—being Bull, he disapproves. He doesn't want to be comforted, and he certainly does not want to talk about his feelings right now.
|All the love and affection he feels for Krem is in Bull's face and voice here as he smiles down at him.|
Then Krem walks up. Bull is faux-stern with him, but the smile underneath is already there.
"You're late," says Bull.
"Sorry, Chief," Krem replies. "Still sore from fighting off all those Vints." Then he nods to the Inquisitor and greets them. There's a brief interlude with some different options as the Inquisitor can express relief, curiosity, or simple congratulations. Krem's dialogue will change slightly in response depending on the options, and he shows most warmth if the Inquisitor expresses open relief that they're okay, adding, "We knew that you and the Chief had our backs, Your Worship."
Krem continues, smiling, "Chief's even breaking open a cask of Chasind Sack Mead for the Chargers tonight."
Bull looks a little sheepish. "Damn it, Krem, that's the kind of thing you don't have to mention to the Inquisitor!"
Krem apologizes, then squares off with Bull, ready to spar again, retrying that same attack and shield block they were working on earlier (interestingly, it's worth noting here that Krem's shield clearly bears the blood dragon symbol of Kirkwall).
Bull rushes at Krem, who blocks the assault efficiently this time. Bull nods. All the love and affection he feels for Krem is in his face and voice here as he smiles down at this young man, his spiritual son. (It's all just pixels, but those pixels are beautiful.)
"Ah, forget it," he smiles. "You're doing fine."
Bull may have lost part of his life today, and may regret the loss of that earlier boy he'd once saved. But this son is still here, still alive to spar and joke with.
|The Qunari send two assassins to kill Bull, knowing he'll take them out with minimal effort. Do you think the assassins knew they were on a suicide mission? How sad would it be if the Qunari told them they'd get paid when they got back?|
When we talk to Bull again (and you'll need to, to get full credit for the quest completion, no matter which choice you made), we're up on the battlements.
The Inquisitor asks, "You wanted to see me?"
An assassin dressed as an Inquisition runner darts up behind Bull, who spins, fights him, gets slashed with a blade, then throws a blade deep into his chest. The first assassin falls. A second assassin rushes in behind. Bull just yells that he's got this, as the second assassin taunts him.
ASSASSIN: Ebost issala, Tal-Vashoth! ("Return to dust, Tal-Vashoth!")
IRON BULL (killing him easily and tossing him off the ramparts): Yeah, yeah, my soul's dust. Yours is scattered all over the ground, though, so...
The Inquisitor approaches.
IRON BULL: Sorry, Boss. I thought I might need backup. Guess I'm not even worth sending professionals for.
INQUISITOR: How's that wound? Are you all right?
IRON BULL: Fine. Hurt myself worse than this fooling around in bed.
INQUISITOR: What if they used poison?
IRON BULL: Oh, they definitely used poison. Saar-qamek, liquid form. If I hadn't been dosing myself with the antidote, I'd be going crazy and puking my guts up right now. As it is, it stings like shit, but that's about it.
Okay, this is interesting—the Qunari would know that Bull's greatest fear is madness, so what do they employ as a poison against him? Evidently, a variation on qamek called "saar-qamek," which he notes would make him "crazy" as well (so I actually think he's being literal here). It's a nice, creepy realization that the Qun was fully prepared to kill him with a poison that not only resulted in pain and death, but also in madness. Even if they knew it probably wouldn't succeed.
INQUISITOR: You knew the assassins were coming?
IRON BULL: Little change in the guard rotation tipped me off.
INQUISITOR: Why didn't you tell me ahead of time?
IRON BULL (teasing): You go through years of Ben-Hassrath training to hide facial expressions when I wasn't looking?
The Inquisitor tries to look expressionless, drops her eyes, and he nods.
IRON BULL: See? Like that. If I'd warned you or the guards, the assassins would've been tipped off.
INQUISITOR: I'd hoped the Ben-Hassrath would let you go.
IRON BULL (softly): They did. Sending two guys with blades against ME? That's not a hit, that's a formality. Just making it clear that I'm Tal-Vashoth. Tal-Va-fucking-shoth.
The Inquisitor can respond with love, with expedience ("Report this attack, please") or with concern that this will make him less effective (ugh).
INQUISITOR: You acted like a Tal-Vashoth for years. That didn't change you. Neither does this.
IRON BULL: That was just a role. This is my life, as one of those... I've killed hundreds of Tal-Vashoth in Seheron. Bandits, murderers, bastards who turned their back on the Qun. And now I'm one of them.
If the Inquisitor responds with a question, it's an interesting exchange:
INQUISITOR: So, are you sad about losing what you had, or worrying that some of the Tal-Vashoth you killed were like you?
IRON BULL: I don't know. Both, I guess?
It's also an especially insightful moment if the Inquisitor is an Adaar:
ADAAR INQUISITOR: You don't need to say 'Tal-Vashoth' like it's an insult.
IRON BULL: This isn't about you, Boss.
ADAAR INQUISITOR: But I'm Tal-Vashoth too, just like you.
IRON BULL: No, you're not. Not really. You grew up with a family. You never knew anything different.
But my favorite reply is a simple reaffirmation, with love and loyalty:
INQUISITOR: Bullshit. You're a good man.
IRON BULL (softly, and with regret): Without the Qun to live by.
INQUISITOR: Hey! You're a good man. If the Ben-Hassrath don't see that, it's their loss.
IRON BULL: Thanks, Boss. Anyway, I'll get this cleaned up and let Red know what happened.
Bull turns back to the Inquisitor. "Boss... Whatever I miss, whatever I regret... this is where I want to be." He pauses, then says the words that reaffirm that we have his loyalty now, and always: "Whenever you need an ass kicked, the Iron Bull is with you.
It's just one of my favorite moments. Prinze's voice work is just terrific—even more than usual. It's casual but there's still that tension. Bull's voice is soft, but also full of honesty and emphasis. He is trying to tell us something real, here. Bull gives that slight almost-smile and side glance again, and walks off.
|A brief glimpse of that nearby hilltop, where the Chargers' bodies have joined those of the Venatori they vanquished earlier.|
But let's step back in time. If the Inquisitor chooses "Save the dreadnought," things of course go much more terribly for the Chargers (and Bull).
In which case, our Inquisitor turns sternly to Bull and says, "We need to hold that hill at all costs."
Bull sighs heavily. A long pause. "Yeah," he answers.
We hear the distant clash of metal, the sounds of combat.
The Inquisitor can then express sorrow, tell Bull to look away (he doesn't), or wonder if the Chargers can hold out long enough, to which Bull says curtly, "They'll get it done."
The dialogue with the most insight is when we express sorrow:
INQUISITOR ("I'm sorry."): Your soldiers are giving their lives for a good cause, Bull.
IRON BULL (clear, calm and sharp): No. We're doing it for a good cause. Gaining an alliance, strengthening the Inquisition, something.
That last "something" kills me, by the way. Right there, he's subtly admitting he's not even sure what all this loyalty is worth. What he really gets from it. Not if his boys are lost.
He looks over at the Inquisitor.
IRON BULL: The Chargers don't care about any of that crap. They're giving their lives for me.
This whole exchange is beautifully presented by the artists, animators, cinematic designer John Epler, and the other artists who created this scene. Bull is quiet but resolute, but his face is anguished. Gatt's expression is sad as well, and it's a terrific detail that his eyes never leave Bull's face.
GATT: Hissrad... I'm sorry. I know that wasn't easy.
IRON BULL: Doesn't matter. The Qun demanded it.
Then we get a brief glimpse of that nearby hilltop, and now the Chargers' bodies have joined those of the Venatori they vanquished earlier. The surviving Venatori look around with satisfaction, arms folded.
Bull is brief and matter-of-fact: "Dreadnought's clear. Let's get out of here."
|Bull only allows himself one display of emotion—right after wishing the Inquisitor a good day ("Have a good one."). He punches the wall in rage and grief, then simply stands there for a moment, acknowledging the pain... this one and only time.|
And then we're back to Skyhold, as Bull greets the Inquisitor and Gatt walks up.
GATT: Inquisitor, my superiors have named you basalit-an. It means "respected one." (Me: COUGH. Right. As in, "We don't consider you just a thing like we do most other people.") We would be honored to join you in the fight against Corypheus. You'll have Qunari support on the seas, as well as our full intelligence network.
The Inquisitor can thank Gatt, check to see what Bull thinks, or express grief and anger at the loss of Bull's men.
Then Gatt looks at Bull again, sobering:
GATT: Hissrad... marasas shokra.
IRON BULL: Panahedan, Gatt.
I think, if this is a variation on "maraas shokra," a phrase we've heard before back in Dragon Age II, then Gatt is simply saying "There is no need for struggle," or "There's nothing to struggle against," as a kind of expression of sympathy for Bull. A way of reminding him of his oath. And then Bull responds in Qunlat with the age-old "Goodbye."
Gatt nods, and walks away quietly.
"A Qunari alliance. That's a first." (And a last! I shriek inwardly, knowing it's all for nothing.)
But then the Inquisitor's potential responses offer new insights from Bull. If the Inquisitor expresses sorrow for the loss of the Chargers, Bull shrugs it off as a not unexpected risk. If they tell Bull to take some time for himself, Bull simply agrees quietly. The Inquisitor can also comment on the advantages the new Ben-Hassrath network will offer. However, the most revealing moment is the option when the Inquisitor asks "What does this mean for you?"
INQUISITOR ("What does this mean for you?"): So what about you, Bull? Are you going back to the Ben-Hassrath?
IRON BULL (slightly disapproving): I never left.
And there it is. The truth we may have wondered about for how long now... right there in the open.
Bull ends the conversation with a quiet "Have a good one," and the Inquisitor leaves. And again, it's these little choices by Weekes that are so painful: Bull has just lost his family, the people he loved more than anyone else on earth. At the orders of the Inquisitor... to whom he just wished a courteous good day even while his heart was breaking.
But there's more.
Then Bull does the thing that absolutely kills me: he breaks. For the one and only time, he breaks. He walks a few steps away, facade still in place, back to where he had once sparred with Krem... and then he savagely punches the wall with his right fist. Bull simply stands there for a moment, the seconds passing, his face shadowed, then he bows his head, fist still against the stones as if to acknowledge the pain of this moment... this one and only time.
|What follows is sad... and it's also one of the creepiest and most revealing conversations in the entire game story.|
And then, just as before, we're on the battlements with Bull, but in this version of reality there will be no assassins because Bull here is already dead inside. The shell that remains has asked us to participate in a moment to remember the Chargers, as he "wanted some help dealing with this."
He looks closely at the Inquisitor, then holds up an ornate urn. It is beautiful and somehow exotic—a curved, almost hourglass-shaped object in deep crimson with what looks like golden accents.
"The Bull's Chargers. What's left of them, anyway."
This means that after leaving that hilltop and making camp that night, that Bull went back to the Chargers' hillside and either retrieved their bodies, or had soldiers do so. But I think he did it himself. And I think he lit a pyre and burned the bodies... and never slept that long night. And then I think he gathered some of the ashes, and put them into the urn we see here.
What follows is sad... and it's also one of the creepiest and most revealing conversations in the entire game story.
IRON BULL: Krem, Rocky, Dalish, all of 'em. Dead for the Iron Bull, a man who never really existed.
The Inky can ask about this "man that never existed," here, wondering if he really isn't The Iron Bull anymore:
INQUISITOR: Should I start calling you Hissrad?
IRON BULL: Nah. It'd just confuse everyone. Besides, you're mangling the pronunciation. (A pause.) But I think I'm done leading mercenaries into battle.
Of course he's finished with leading mercenaries into battle. If he did that again, he might care again, or love again. And he can't risk that. He's already broken too many times.
The Inquisitor can also choose to tell him he doesn't have to change:
INQUISITOR: You can still be the Iron Bull.
IRON BULL: I plan to. Chargers or no, it's a fun role, and I like Orlesian food.
"It's a fun role." Let that sink in a little. Every time he says it, I have to fight a shiver. It's intensely creepy that he's saying this to us (again). As always, Bull is expressing honesty in a way that also happens to include a thousand other potential questions, not all of them comfortable.
Last but not least, the Inquisitor can reaffirm that hey, at least Bull's loyalties are no longer divided:
INQUISITOR: You've lived two lives for too long. This is cleaner.
IRON BULL: Hmm... Yeah. I think you're right. I mean, don't get me wrong, I still like Orlesian food.
Then Bull continues, and what's key here for me is that while Bull thinks he is holding a brief memorial service for the Chargers, what he is really burying right here is The Iron Bull. The life he almost allowed himself to have. The family and joy and songs. The son he had rescued so long ago, who'd been just a little too vulnerable, and who'd finally fallen. The blind spot.
IRON BULL: But I've been away from the Qun for too many years. This was a good reminder of who I really am. Now I can serve you and the Inquisition honestly.
He sighs, then looks out across the battlements to the mountains.
IRON BULL: Sorry, guys. I don't know any prayers from the Chantry, or whatever Rocky and Dalish believed in. (then, quietly) Ataash varin kata. Asit tal-eb. ("In the end lies glory. It is to be.")
The Inquisitor can promise to fight for the fallen Chargers, to avenge them. She can also note that their sacrifice will be honored.
"If this had all been just an act, you wouldn't be mourning them right now," she notes.
Bull looks at her with subtle contempt. Already, in hindsight, she is now nothing more than an 'other,' a thing. An outsider who doesn't understand. "What?" he asks. "Like the Qunari don't mourn their dead?"
"Not dead outsiders, I'm guessing."
Bull just looks tired, suddenly. "Yeah. Maybe not." He pauses. "But even if this was all just an act, it was real for them. They were mine."
In this same scene, if it's an Adaar Inquisitor, Bull will respond slightly differently, with " Dunno what you learned in the Tal-Vashoth, but there's nothing in the Qun against mourning your comrades," although when the Inky asks about "dead outsiders," Bull rethinks it again, just as above.
"The Bull's Chargers gave their lives for the Inquisition, and for me," says the Inquisitor. "They will be remembered as heroes."
Bull speaks softly. "For every bloody battlefield, we'll gladly raise a cup. No matter what tomorrow holds..." he trails off.
He does not finish the song. Because there is no tomorrow for the Chargers now. And if you're not moved and maybe a little tearful, you're made of stronger stuff than I.
"Thanks, Boss. Didn't wanna do this alone." He turns away, and we fade to black. And just like that, The Iron Bull, the guy we thought we knew and maybe even loved... is gone. The only thing left is a shell called Hissrad.
And this isn't even the worst moment. Not yet. And it's not the sad realization we may get that Bull now has very little to say to us. All we can do is ask him about the alliance from this point on, unless we're romancing him (in which case, he's coldly doing his duty in the bedroom) or we give him a little momentary happiness by slaying a dragon. It's not even the worst part to realize Bull no longer calls us "Boss," but (slyly, and perfectly expressed by Prinze) "Bas."
Nope, the worst part is that empty corner. It never, ever feels okay that Krem's not there.
Trap or No Trap?
But there's a bit more still to dissect here...
For instance, there are a lot of DAI players out there who firmly believe this entire mission is simply a trap for Bull, a kind of experiment to see once and for all where his loyalties lie.
This means that Gatt's mission wasn't really about an alliance, but part of a complicated and staged scenario in which to test Bull and then take action depending on his choices.
It's a persuasive idea, and certainly one devious enough for the Qun. However, for me, it's too elaborate and the cost is too high. There are too many outside factors, too many things that can go wrong. Do I think the Ben-Hassrath felt it was high time to check in with Hissrad and see just how loyal he still was? Absolutely. And this mission provided the perfect way to assess that. But I think the mission itself was genuine, even if the alliance itself was never really going to be worth the paper it was printed on. I just don't see the Qun risking an entire dreadnought just to test Bull's allegiances.
I think what it came down to was, the Qunari wanted help in this particular mission, saw the usefulness of involving (and watching) Hissrad, and then took appropriate action afterward, using Gatt as added emotional lever. If Hissrad did the right thing, his superiors would be pleased at the confirmation of his loyalty (at least, for the short term, since it's heavily implied that Bull went right back in for heavy reeducation after the final battle with Corypheus, and before returning to Halamshiral for "Trespasser").
If Hissrad did the wrong thing, and chose poorly? The Ben-Hassrath would have all the answers they needed, they'd send a few assassins in a largely symbolic gesture, write him off as a broken tool, and discard him entirely.
|Remember, Krem is why Bull has only one eye, and it's a gorgeous metaphor that carries through to their relationship. He is not only the cause of Bull's literal blind spot, but his metaphorical one too.|
In the end, Bull's loyalty mission comes down to an intriguing choice for him—a choice between those two rescued boys, his two adopted sons.
For the happier ending where the Chargers survive (and so does Bull's soul), he chooses Krem. And I think this choice means more not just because he loves Krem more (although I do think he loves Gatt too), but also because he had allowed himself to feel more for Krem.
When Bull had rescued the little boy Gatt, way back when he was a young Hissrad, he was still full of fire and passion for the Qun, strong in his belief and certainty. He was also disciplined and mentally strong. He hadn't spent years struggling, fighting, questioning. He hadn't had to confront and kill his own former commander for attempting to go Tal-Vashoth himself. He hadn't broken down yet from sheer trauma and exhaustion, questioning his own mind. He hadn't had to wonder what would really happen to the world if the Qun won.
He'd thought he'd known all the answers. And while I believe Bull had many loved ones back under the Qun, from Gatt to his friend Vasaad, killed in Seheron, and many others, I think the strength of his adherence to the Qun also brought with it a kind of detachment, a discipline.
But decades later, after Seheron, after reeducation and assessment and formal punishment, when Bull rescued Krem, he didn't have to compartmentalize his paternal feelings, or look at every person he rescued as a tool to be used. Krem of course proved both capable and invaluable, but although Bull valued him for his leadership abilities and loyalty, he loved him for his friendship and affection, as the son who would joke with him about going soft, who'd spar with him, who'd entertain them all with divinely silly diversions like sewing wings on stuffed nugs. Who'd always be there at his side.
I always think this is a beautiful detail. Remember, Krem is why Bull has only one eye, and it's a gorgeous metaphor that carries through to their relationship. Until the final moments of "Demands of the Qun" Bull is loyal to the Qun... but Krem is his blind spot. The person whose loss will finally break him.
Just as, in a happier alternate universe... Krem lives, and continues to replace that blind spot with his own keen and loving eye as he quietly takes his place in that corner at the Herald's Rest, watching the part of the room that Bull can't see.
And that's the version of "The Demands of the Qun" that I prefer, and that I choose as my canon.
In an awful way, I enjoyed my experimental playthroughs of that darkest timeline in which the dreadnought lived. The Qun-loyal choice was incredibly sad, and I appreciated what I learned there—especially that revelation of just how close to the abyss our generous, funny friend The Iron Bull really walked, all those months before we had to gain his loyalty—smiling those double smiles, listening, watching, spying. Betraying our smaller secrets and living a lie until the Qun had to be fed, and he went dead inside for good. You'll never know how close Bull lives to darkness every single day unless you do this playthrough at least once.
But never again. For me, the Inquisitor earns Bull's undying loyalty by supporting his family, his name, his new life. For me, the Chargers always live to toast their victories and sing their song. And Krem is always sitting in that tavern corner, not far from the father figure who'd rescued him... and who he'd managed, against all odds, to rescue right back by persuading him to join the Inquisition.
I'm a headcanoning fool. So in my mind, later on that evening, the Chargers raucously celebrate their victory at the Herald's Rest (turning to ale once the mead is gone), with the Inquisitor and some other companions joining in on the Chargers song. Then Krem quietly goes back to his corner as the tavern quiets, listening to Maryden's pretty voice in song. Krem smiles at her (later he may or may not stand upon his chair for a better view), and then leans forward, looking over to the right to catch Bull's eye where Bull can see him. He raises his bottle, and Bull grins.
And all is as it should be. Asit tal-eb.
at July 06, 2019 17 comments:
Labels: asit tal-eb, Chargers, David Gaider, Demands of the Qun, dialogue, Dragon Age Inquisition, Freddie Prinze Jr., Hissrad, Iron Bull, Krem, Patrick Weekes, Qun, Qunari, Seheron, tal-vashoth, Trespasser
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