Lee has been playing "Dragon Age" since the first game's release. She enjoys exploring and explaining the characters and the lore.
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.
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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.