"Dragon Age 2" (2011): Anders Was Right
I wanted to do an in-depth character analysis of Anders because he is very well-written (thanks Hepler) and as a result, is probably the most divisive character in Dragon Age aside from Loghain. But this article isn't going to be a character analysis.
It's been maybe six or seven years since I last played Awakening, the expansion that was released for Dragon Age: Origins and the content in which Anders first appears. It's also been years since I've romanced Anders.
I would rather not rely on Youtube videos and wikis to do a character analysis. In fact, I never do. I just offer the links in my articles so that people can easily see what I'm talking about.
I could easily do a replay of Awakening. I mean, I still own it. And I could roll a Hawke who romances Anders. But . . . I just don't feel like it. As much as I love Origins, it has not aged well as far as graphics and animations (Oh, god, those animations . . .) and I just don't feel like replaying Dragon Age 2 just to romance Anders.
So everything I write in this article is from memory, and instead of a character analysis, I basically wanted to write this random observation because I was playing Dragon Age 2 and the entire time, I kept thinking to myself . . . "Holy shit, Anders was right."
It's funny. A lot of fans say that they used to agree with Anders but now that they're older, they don't agree with his actions at all. I'm actually the opposite. A younger, more naive me was outraged by Anders and would kill him at the end of the game. Now when I get to the ending, I always feel a deep sense of shame and spare his life. But . . . more on that later.
Because I'm not just talking about Anders blowing up the Chantry. He is also right in his criticisms about the other characters, harsh as they are. For all his flaws, Anders is a pretty observant fellow and a pretty good judge of character. At least he was in Dragon Age 2.
But remember Anders in Awakening?
Anders in Awakening
Back in Awakening, Anders was basically Alistair if Alistair had been a mage. He was blonde. Young. Naive. Andrastian. Whiny. Used jokes to deflect. Was racist toward elves. But he wasn't a virgin and had no romantic interest in the Warden.
Yes, Anders was racist against elves. I'm not saying he wanted all of them to drown in their own blood or something. There are different types of racists. There are the people who are just ignorant and there are the people who actively hate.
Passive hatred is still hatred and indifference is the opposite of love. Anders doesn't care about the plight of the elves. He will tell an elven Warden to her face that the mages have it worse (simply not true) and he spends Awakening bickering with Velanna, an obnoxious Dalish mage who, I admit, is really out of control.
He whines continuously about mages being mistreated but it never occurs to him that maybe, as a warden, he can do something to improve their condition. Instead, he squanders his newfound freedom complaining.
Justice is a spirit who possesses the corpse of a dead warden. He challenges Anders for being whiny and tells him to do something about the plight of the mages.
Anders in Dragon Age 2
Fast forward to Dragon Age 2 and Anders is running a clinic in Darktown. He has run away from the wardens after being hunted by templars and cornered. This was detailed in a short story in which Justice took over Anders in order to slay the templars and help his friend escape. It paints Anders in a tragic light. He doesn't just join with Justice on a foolish whim but because he is being hunted and needs the help of his spirit friend to survive the attack.
At least, that's how I remember the short story. I could be wrong. But if I'm right, then what Anders did in joining with Justice was an act of desperation. He was cornered by the templars and became an abomination to survive.
It's what most of the mages in the series do. In fact, that's the entire theme of Dragon Age 2. The mages are pushed to extremes and then condemned as evil mages, as if their rational reaction to oppression were proof of their wickedness.
Basically confirmation bias.
I think the reason why some fans side with the templars is that Hawke is not a Circle mage or may not even have been a mage at all depending on the player. So she wouldn't understand why mages went to such extremes in the game. This led to her making (admittedly hilarious) jokes about blood mages being stupid and crazy, which in turn caused the audience to side with her perspective.
In reality, these are oppressed people driven to extreme acts of violence in order to protect themselves and survive. We see it over and over in the game. In fact, the only mages who don't go insane and turn themselves into abominations are mages who (surprise!) were not raised within the oppressive environment of the Circle.
For instance, Morrigan is an apostate and her entire arc is about her resisting her mother's evil magic, while Wynne, a Circle mage, was forced to become an abomination in order to survive Uldred's uprising . . . which was happening in the first place because Uldred was promised his freedom but Loghain went back on his word.
People think that the Circles are benevolent but strict schools of magic, when in reality, they are just pretty prisons where the inmates are ripped from their families, not allowed to have children, cook for themselves, dress themselves, make their own choices, lead their own lives, and are told repeatedly that they aren't people but dangerous weapons. All of that is emotional abuse which is actually worse than physical abuse in many ways, since the brain can't tell the difference between physical and emotional pain.
On top of that, mages are sexually abused, physically abused, neglected (in the case of Cole from the White Spire) and treated with seething hatred and distrust. Oh, and if they complain about it, they are lobotomized.
Mages pretty much take a beating in every way possible. If the Circles were good places to live, characters like Uldred wouldn't go insane when they're told they can't leave.
But I'm getting ahead of myself. First, let's explore how Anders is right about the companions.
If you take Anders along in your party often enough, it becomes obvious that he can't seem to get along with anyone. He criticizes Aveline harshly about her deceased husband, Wesley, and her role as guard captain. He constantly lectures Merrill. And, lord help us, his seething hatred for Fenris is perpetual, unending, and hilarious.
Anders only seems to get along with Isabela and Varric. Everyone else bickers with him. But . . . is he wrong?
Anders vs Aveline
Anders hates Aveline because she's pro-Circle, doesn't seem to see mages as people, and wants all mages locked up. This makes it hard to be her friend as a mage character because she can say some really crappy things to Hawke.
Admittedly, mage Hawke pretty much spends the game saying, "What about me? Should I be locked up?" every time someone in the game screeches about how evil mages are. The instances that come to mind are Gamlen's ranting after Leandra's death and Cullen's crappy rant in the Gallows, but there are more.
Unlike Cullen and Gamlen, Aveline could actually be Hawke's friend but will still say to her face that mages aren't people.
If you take Aveline along for Best Served Cold in Act 3, she says it's not as simple as removing Meredith. So basically . . . she wants to keep Meredith in power, even if it means mages are raped and tortured!
And if you take Aveline into the Fade during the quest Night Terrors, she will give in to the demon. Later, she will say that mages should be locked up if that's what they have to contend with all the time. She says that resisting a demon is so difficult (for her) that the mages who manage it must not be mortal.
So in other words . . . Aveline was too weak to resist a demon but thinks mages who can resist should be locked up . . . Where is the logic? The last time I checked, you don't have to be a mage to become an abomination.
Yes, Night Terrors demonstrates that a powerful mage can become a powerful abomination, but Feynriel doesn't give in. He begs for Hawke to make him Tranquil and has the option to go to Tevinter to study. But he never once gives in to any of the demons who tempt him. Instead . . . his rescuers do.
Anders is right about Aveline being dumb and a shitty guard captain. All of Act 2 demonstrates this. She fraternizes with a subordinate (on her desk, for god's sake). When Hawke commits crimes in front of her, she turns a blind eye. Her guards get away with raping elven women because she doesn't find it important enough to investigate. And if she had done her job, she might have saved Leandra, as well as countless other women.
Aveline was also married to a templar. Anders seems to assume that Wesley is a jerk. It's because most templars are jerks. There's even a line you can get from Carver during his personal quest where he says, "Have we ever met a templar that wasn't a colossal prick?" to which Sarcastic Hawke has a typically hilarious reply insulting Carver.
Anders has spent his life in the Circle being mistreated by templars. He knows how they think and he knows most of them are abusers. Why wouldn't he assume the worst about Wesley?
And for anyone who was paying attention during the prologue . . . Anders is right. Hawke and her family dive in to save Aveline and Wesley from darkspawn, and even though Wesley is falling over and about to die, he attempts to . . . .kill? Arrest. . .? No idea what he thought he was doing. But he tries to get aggressive with Bethany and possibly Hawke if Hawke is a mage, even though they just saved his miserable life! He doesn't back down until Aveline steps in.
Aveline has a bias against mages but she also has more sense than a templar. This is something that Anders can sort of point out when he says that Aveline is smarter than he supposed and makes an insulting reference to her headband holding her brains in.
Anders vs Merrill
Anders spends all of Acts 1 and 2 trying to convince Merrill that she's in danger of becoming an abomination. Because Anders is ignorant and bigotted toward elves, he goes about it the wrong way. First, he tries to teach Merrill Andrastianism, which is all levels of insulting. He knows she has her own religion, but he deems it inferior and tries to convert her.
When Merrill puts him in his place, he takes a different tactic: he starts explaining, in great detail, what it's like to be possessed by a spirit. Note that Merrill never refers to the pride demon as a "demon" but as a "spirit." Anders deliberately tries to make Merrill see what she already knows: there is no real difference.
Merrill is frightened by Anders' horrific descriptions but not frightened enough. I think we all know how Pride's End . . . ends.
We could assume that Anders actually cares about Merrill, but the real reason for his rage against her is Hawke. Anders is in love with Hawke whether Hawke returns his affections or not. He doesn't want to see Hawke get hurt, but Merrill puts the woman he loves through hell with her antics with the mirror.
A lot of fans hate Anders for stopping his entire quest in Act 3 to criticize Hawke's relationship with Merrill. He will tell Hawke that Merrill will always choose the demon over her. Hawke, who usually has a witty comeback or a harsh remark, is so speechless that all she can sputter is, "Merrill loves me!"
It's because deep down . . . Hawke knows Anders is right.
Anders vs Fenris
Keep in mind that I hate Fenris, so this is going to be biased . . .
Anders and Fenris have a hatred that is legendary as far as Dragon Age rivalries go. Their actual hatred and contempt for each other made many fans (myself included) finally realize that Morrigan and Alistair didn't really hate each other. They disliked each other and enjoyed bickering like siblings, but actually hate? No. Anders and Fenris are what real hate looks like.
Anders and Fenris hate each other because they are the exact opposite of each other. They are foils. They highlight each other's strengths and weaknesses. For instance, where Fenris is bitter and indifferent, Anders is earnest and compassionate and cares a little too much for his own good.
People make the argument that Fenris is like that because he was abused, but . . . so was Anders. Anders was locked in solitary confinement for what? A year? He lived in a Circle, where he suffered repeated abuses at the hands of the templars. Hell, his first personal quest in Act 1 has his lover lobotimized and used as bait to lure him into a trap!
And despite his abuse, Anders is still a compassionate man. He uses his freedom to help people and puts himself at risk to do so. Meanwhile, Fenris uses his freedom to get drunk and rant bitterly while hiding for years in a dusty old mansion.
Fenris even openly admits that he hates Merrill because she "wasted" her freedom for a mirror, despite the fact that he himself wastes his own freedom to do what? Kill people for money? He's a mercenary who kills whoever he's told but wants to play the moral high ground with mages.
Anders wants to set other mages free while Fenris hates other elves. He sneers on them, insults the Dalish, and complains every time you bring him to the alienage. Meanwhile, Merrill devotes her entire life to helping the elves in the alienage, no matter what the outcome of the story.
Fenris' story about slaughtering the Fog warriors paints him as the bloodthirsty animal he is, full of a rage that is just barely controlled. I remember the first time I romanced him on the friendship path and how shocked I was when Fenris nearly put his fist through Hawke's chest just because she touched his arm! This domestic violence near-miss abruptly ends when Hawke kisses Fenris and then they have sex . . . WHAT.
Fenris nearly put his first through Hawke because she touched him. He is clearly unhinged and emotionally unstable, more so than Anders, the actual abomination.
He hates mages but is a magic lyrium warrior who can phase through solid objects. And he chose to become one because he was jealous of his sister, who was a mage. He even tries to kill his sister during his personal quest, while she cringes and begs. He doesn't even bother learning the truth first.
Fenris is not only psycho, he's the biggest hypocrite on the planet.
I'm not saying Anders isn't a danger to Hawke. But even with a Vengeance demon living inside him, Anders never posed a physical threat to her. Fenris did.
So when Anders calls Fenris a "wild dog" and not a man . . . he's not wrong. A wild dog is exactly how Fenris behaves. His master gave him the name "Little Wolf" for a reason.
Anders vs Solas
If you've read my other articles here, you may be wondering how I could hate Solas and yet make excuses for Anders. After all, Solas is also a freedom fighter who became a terrorist. He once fought against the Evanuris to free the elven people from slavery, and according to some banter from Cole ("It left a mark when he burned her off his face") he may have even been a slave with the face markings of Mythal. And eventually, he blew up a holy place to save his people, just like Anders.
But what Anders did was necessary to break a stalemate.
Like the Maker, Elthina simply doesn't give a flying f*ck. The mages are suffering, and when Orsino tries to bring attention to it, she dismisses him and Meredith both like bickering children. She doesn't take the mistreatment of the mages seriously. At all. "Oh, are you two arguing over trifles again? Silly children. Back to your corners."
She acts as if she's only trying to keep the peace, but should the peace be kept at the expense of mage lives? Are the mages little more than collateral damage, people whose freedom and dignity must be sacrificed in order to keep the south from becoming like Tevinter?
The problem is, the entire mage/templar war was supposed to be addressed in Inquisition, with Hawke as Inquisitor. But Hawke never became Inquisitor, so the story became a side quest in the Hinterlands and the conflict with the Circles and the Chantry was never really settled.
People complain that Anders should have blown up the templars' quarters instead of a church, but the Chantry is in control of the templars. Alistair tells you in Origins, "Don't let them fool you: they're an army."
The templars are the holy army of the Chantry. It's the Chantry who enforces the law, not the viscounts and kings, which is how Meredith remained on the seat of the viscount so long. . . . and which is also why Elthina never made a move to remove her.
It's because Elthina knew that the Chantry was in control anyway. Not the templars. Not the kings. Not the banns and viscounts. The Chantry is the real ruler of southern Thedas.
So Anders blowing up the Chantry, innocent supplicants and all, was very deliberate. He was making the point that no one cared when innocent mages died, but look how everyone scurried when a few civilians are blown away while praying in the temple of a supposedly mage-hating deity (Andraste).
Interestingly enough, Inquisition strongly hints that Andraste herself was a mage. Fans say it makes no sense because she is always depicted as a warrior (in depictions created by people who never knew her, mind you) and she was fighting mages. But Solas is a mage who fought other mages. Mythal is a mage who fought other mages. And the protagonist of every installment can be a mage who fights other mages. You don't have to hate all mages to fight bad ones.
Andraste could have very well been a mage but depicting her as a warrior and making her out to hate magic would have been a convenient way to brainwash the people into hating mages and agreeing to lock them all up.
So what Anders did was necessary. Anders began a war that needed to happen for the sake of those being oppressed. People who complain about all the innocent lives lost during the mage/templar war strike me as naive. Change always comes with blood. Always.
Again, the mage/templar war was supposed to be a big deal. The novel Asunder was written after Dragon Age 2 to set it up. It was supposed to be a war that changed Thedas and the way that mages were treated. Instead, it wound up being a side quest when Hawke was scrapped as Inquisitor. Which is a damn shame.
As for Solas, what he did was entirely unnecessary. Solas didn't blow up the Chantry to fight back against an oppressive regime. Solas blew up the chantry because he doesn't see the modern races of Thedas as people. He's a racist old elf who wants to make Thedas great again.
You could also compare Anders to Loghain. At least, I've seen fans try.
Loghain was a paranoid, delusional, broken soldier. He became convinced that Cailan was going to be rid of his daughter, Anora, so he could marry the empress of Orlais. Nothing could have been farther from the truth. Eamon kept telling Cailan to be rid of Anora but he refused. Also, Celene is a big ol' gay. She would never marry a man. In fact, her refusal to take a husband because of her affair with Briala (and her lust for power) was the entire plot of the quest Wicked Eyes Wicked Hearts in Inquisition.
And yet, Loghain is so broken and delusional, he thinks he's saving Ferelden by leaving King Cailan to die.Turned out he left the king to die for nothing.
Loghain thought he was doing the right thing for his people. He was wrong.
Solas thought he was doing the right thing for his people. He was wrong.
Anders thought he was doing the right thing for his people. He . . . was right. The villain of Dragon Age 2 isn't Anders. It's Meredith.
Freedom Fighter vs Terrorist
Fans have been debating for nine years now whether or not Anders was a terrorist or a freedom fighter. But to be perfectly honest? I think he was written in a such a way that his role is determined entirely by Hawke's perspective and how you roleplay her.
If you're playing a pro-mage Hawke who wants to set the mages free and understands that, where basic rights and dignity are concerned, there can be no compromise . . . then Anders is a freedom fighter.
If you're a playing a pro-Circle Hawke who is an idealist and not a pragmatist (someone who believes change can happen if we all talk out our differences and make deals with evil bigots) . . . Then Anders is a terrorist. Or hell, maybe your Hawke just freaking hates mages. Whatever.
To me, Anders is a freedom fighter.
Now that I'm older, I feel like I have a better grasp on some of the themes in my favorite games. For me, what it boils down to is the fact that freedom isn't free. No one in all of recorded history ever broke out of their oppression by asking their oppressors nicely to please stop hurting them. Anyone who thinks otherwise has never been oppressed (and/or is still largely ignorant as to the extent of their own oppression).
The harsh truth is, war becomes necessary when evil is allowed to run rampant. That is the entire point Anders was making. No one was stepping in to protect the mages. They were being made Tranquil left and right and were being raped and abused.
There's a "scene" in the Gallows that haunts me to this day. I can't remember which act it was in, but there's a male mage who is trying to get through to his Tranquil girlfriend. She refuses to recognize that they were ever in love, instead insisting that she now "serves" Ser Alrik, a templar who is known to sexually abuse mages. It's . . . deeply disturbing what the mages go through in the Circles. They are the most powerful people in Thedas but have been rendered utterly defenseless and are abused as a result.
Disturbing and ironic.
You could argue that it was all the red lyrium that made Kirkwall's Circle a shithole, but red lyrium doesn't make people evil. It removes people's inhibitions.
Meredith always hated mages. She didn't suddenly go evil. It was like red lyrium made her drunk and she stopped caring about hiding the fact that she was evil.
The same went for Bartrand. He always hated Varric. But once he became infected with red lyrium, it was like he suddenly stopped caring about trying to hide it and went so far that he tried to kill his own brother.
And what about the White Spire? What about Kinloch Hold? What about the Circle in Starkhaven? Those Circles aren't sitting on red lyrium mines, and yet the mages there are miserable.
When Starkhaven's Circle burns in a fire, the mages there flee. Some suspect that the mages set the place on fire in order to escape (I can't remember). Why would they go through all that trouble to get away if the Circles were five star hotels?
The fact is, the mages were being mistreated. Anders witnesses the injustices every day and is possessed by a spirit of Justice that can't stand idly by while it happens. Witnessing such crimes and feeling helpless enraged him and in turn corrupted the Justice spirit inside him to Vengeance.
Higher up I mentioned feeling shame and guilt by the time Anders had blown up the Chantry at the end of Act 3. I said that because my Hawke is a mage who walks around free while other mages are tortured, lobotomized, and killed. She may do the odd quest to help them now and then (remember there are (arguably dumb) three-year time jumps so she helps maybe five or six times in seven years?), but for the most part, she's as compliant as Elthina.
Hawke is one of the most powerful mages in the Dragon Age universe. She could easily storm the Gallows and set those mages free. But instead she sits in her mansion and drinks wine and enjoys her freedom. One of the rogue mages, Evelina, even calls her out for it,
"You're Fereldan like us, but you sit in your mansion and feast on sweet meats while your people starve!"
Though to be fair to Hawke, I should probably add that Hawke is only superficially "free." The only reason Meredith doesn't arrest Hawke after the Arishok's defeat is that Meredith realizes Hawke can be of use to her.
Over the course of the first two acts, Hawke solves more problems in Kirkwall than the entire templar force combined. Also, Hawke is incredibly powerful. Trying to bring her in forcefully would be a waste of templar lives. Would be far easier to control her through her sibling and/or love interest.
In Act 3, Meredith "asks" Hawke to bring in some rogue mages who have fled the Circle. If Hawke ridicules the templars' ineptitude, Meredith admits that Hawke is needed for this. If Hawke refuses to help, Meredith proceeds to blackmail her.
Meredith is a lot of things but she isn't stupid. She allows Hawke to roam free because she sees her as a useful tool she can control for her purposes.
So even if Hawke were to attempt to free the mages, Meredith would have something to dangle over her head, be it Carver, Bethany, Hawke's love interest, or even just bringing harm to Hawke herself.
Still, the fact remains that Hawke does nothing to really change things or even break herself out of Meredith's hold. Instead, she sits on her ass. By blowing up the Chantry, Anders forces her to act.
Or rather . . . Anders gives her an excuse to. Anders is an anti-hero, while Hawke is a hero. The entire reason Anders lied to Hawke rather than directly involving her was to protect her. He didn't want her to become dark or pragmatic. He sees her as pure and good and can't allow her to bloody her hands with the deaths of innocents.
Anders did the dirty work, the necessary work, giving Hawke a chance to finally save the mages. He can even confirm as much should Hawke ask why he didn't just tell her the truth.
So again, my mage Hawke did not feel rage at Anders. She felt only guilt and shame that she had sat on her butt for years while mages were tortured, even though she had the power to save them. Anders wound up doing the necessary thing she could not.
It Was Justice Who Blew Up the Chantry
Another thing people forget is that, after a certain point, Anders isn't even "behind the wheel" anymore, so to speak. He's lost control. It's technically Justice who blows up the Chantry, not Anders.
Some fans think it's "too easy" to point to a mage who's become an abomination and acknowledge that he isn't even in control anymore (Uldred), but it's literally the lore. If you romance Anders, he tells you how he's been having blank spots in his memory. Justice is slowly taking over. Anders knows that Justice is going to do something soon and that he's going to die because of it.
At one point in the game, Anders even starts giving away his stuff. He tries to give Varric a pillow his mother embroidered for him. It was the only thing he was allowed to take to the Circle (damn. They don't even let you pack a suitcase?).
If you allow Anders to live, he expresses pleasant surprise at this, and it becomes clear that he fully expected Hawke to kill him.
Because he is possessed by a Justice spirit, Anders is laboring under the delusion that there is justice in the world. This is made clear by his arguments with Isabela, who tries to tell him that there is no such thing as justice. It's an idea that Anders, who is drowning in hopelessness and despair, insists on clinging to.
So in Anders' mind, Hawke killing him would be "justice" for the innocents who died in the Chantry. He sees Hawke as a being of justice. And indeed, had Hawke been Inquisitor, she would have been compared often to Mythal, a goddess of justice (Instead, the diplomatic Inquisitor was given this comparison by Solas and Mythal herself).
There's a second parallel if Anders romances Hawke: Hawke is Justice (Mythal) while Anders is Vengeance (Elgar'nan). Mythal was also the only one who could calm Elgar'nan down (Elgar'nan was given to rage), while Hawke is the only person who can stop Anders from killing Ella in Act 2.
But as I pointed out in my Flemeth analysis, Anders isn't even there after a certain point. Given what we've seen in the games themselves, it seems to be that the spirit will eventually take over the body, having complete control, while the original host is just in the background, along for the ride.
This seems to be the case both with Uldred in Origins and Flemeth, who I suspect is little more than one of Andraste's many daughters, possessed by the spirit of Mythal and serving as a husk for her to live inside.
Either way, whether Anders himself blew up the Chantry or Justice/Vengeance, I still believe what happened was necessary in order to bring an end to the mage/templar conflict. It's just a shame that the entire arc wasn't properly concluded in Inquisition.
Ah. What could have been.