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"Dragon Age Origins" (2009): How I Eventually Found Alistair Insufferable

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

Alistair as he appears in "Dragon Age: Origins."

Alistair as he appears in "Dragon Age: Origins."

Dragon Age: Origins is a classic role-playing game that came out in 2009 to a hearty round of applause. It was supposed to be the spiritual successor of Baldur's Gate, which was one reason I felt comfortable buying it: I was already half-convinced I would like it.

Alistair was the first character I ever romanced in Dragon Age: Origins (and the entire Dragon Age franchise), and perhaps for that reason alone, I'll always love him as a character. He is very well written and even realistic: a young guy who is soft-hearted, a victim of emotional abuse, and needs to do a lot of growing up.

He was Always Crying!

Alistair blubbering about something or other.

Alistair blubbering about something or other.

Before I romanced Alistair, however, I hated him. I thought he was childish and annoying, and my Dalish elf bickered with him constantly, especially after Redcliffe when he blew up on her for sacrificing Lady Isolde.

Then, my Dalish elf accidentally romanced Alistair, which allowed me to see a softer side to him (not that he wasn't soft before). Because of this, I came to identify with Alistair as a fellow sensitive dork. I think I was about the same age as his character when Origins came out. I was in my early twenties. I was unhappy, a victim of emotional abuse, and I dealt with my problems by deflecting with humor (basically by ignoring them). And we both share a shameless love of action figure collecting!

In other words, I hadn't yet grown up (still collect the action figures today, though). Had I been placed in a world like Thedas with so much responsibility on my shoulders like Alistair, I would have done the same thing: reacted with emotion, shied from actively leading or taking responsibility.

Even though I was a lesbian, I came to identify with Alistair because of our shared history of abuse and personality traits, though most (male) fans hated him because he was also childish and whiny.

Alistair and Morrigan argue outside Lothering.

Alistair and Morrigan argue outside Lothering.

I'll be honest: I hate Alistair for this, too. While I don't have a problem with men crying or showing their feelings, there are a few early conversations with Alistair where he's constantly weeping over Duncan, a man that he knew all of a couple months. But he was so desperate for a father figure that he falls apart after the guy's death. I mean completely falls apart. There's a huge difference between Alistair before Ostagar and Alistair after Ostagar.

I used to think Morrigan was mean, but Alistiar really was a bit over the top dramatic about Ostagar. He was a child and couldn't pull himself together in order to do what needed to be done, instead dumping all the burden on the Warden, who may be grieving their actual family (especially if they are a Cousland).

Morrigan was right to criticize Alistair. But Alistair doesn't get it because he never had a family. He doesn't know what it's like to lose someone you knew and loved for years. His deep grieving over people he barely knew a couple months seems ridiculous in that light.

Forcing the Warden to lead while he staggered behind them weeping was actually pretty childish and self-centered. And again, good old Morrigan points this out in party banter by asking Alistair why he, the senior warden, is not leading them. If the party banter triggers late in the game, Morrigan will add that she was looking for some of Alistair's father in him, to which Alistair mutters (rather childishly) for her to leave him alone.

His Romance was Actually Really Messed Up

Alistair chats with the Warden after sex with a mod.

Alistair chats with the Warden after sex with a mod.

Love is not conditional; it is unconditional.

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Loving someone unconditionally doesn't mean you lie down and take their crap. It means you go on loving them no matter what, flaws and all. It means you aren't selfish. It means you won't abandon them in their hour of greatest need.

On my most recent playthrough as the dwarven princess, I chose to conscript Loghain into the Grey Wardens. Because I had romanced Alistair on so many old playthroughs, I never did this before, even when I romanced some other character, because I liked Alistair and wanted him to stay around.

Now that I'm much older and more mature, I know that doing the right thing for Ferelden is more important than holding together my character's superficial relationships. And I say the Warden's relationship/friendship with Alistair is "superficial" because Alistair loves the Warden on the condition that they do what he wants at the landsmeet.

Even if you're romancing Alistair, sparing Loghain means he'll throw a huge tantrum and then stomp out. I'd heard about it over the years, but seeing it for myself really made it hit home how much of a child Alistair is and how correct Anora is to call him out on not being mature enough or worthy enough for the throne.

I guess it shouldn't be surprising since Alistair exhibits this behavior throughout the game everytime you make a decision that is not idealistic or in line with his naive perspective. He really comes off like a brat.

By walking out of the landsmeet, Alistair shows that he was willing to toss aside a valuable ally and also doom the entire world for the sake of revenge. He knows that only a warden can end the Blight, he knows that the wardens need all the recruits they can get, and yet, he's willing to risk the entire world to the coming darkness all for the sake of his hurt feelings.

I am in no way downplaying what happened at Ostagar, but if Loghain can be useful, the wardens should make use of him—not cast him aside. When the landsmeet takes place, the Archdemon is literally on their doorstep.

There are a lot of legitimate reasons to leave a relationship—abuse, betrayal, neglect —but leaving someone because they refused to help you get bloody revenge? Unbelievably childish (and insane in any other context).

This alone made me start turning Alistair into a wandering drunk. He deserves it.

You could almost say the same thing about Morrigan, that her friendship with the Warden was superficial and conditional. After all, Morrigan only stays around on the condition that the Warden agrees to do the Dark Ritual. If the Warden refuses, Morrigan leaves.

But I don't think Morrigan left because she lied about being the Warden's friend. I think she left because she didn't want to stick around and watch her only friend/sister/lover senselessly die when she could have stopped it. It's completely different to what Alistair does in leaving the landsmeet, and it's even confirmed by Dragon Age: Inquisition when Morrigan speaks so highly of the Warden and speaks with great regret of her death.

The fact that Morrigan abandons you is nonetheless still pretty childish. She and Alistair are pretty much the same: lonely, damaged, emotional children. Alistair just comes off more spineless and weak given the sort of abuse he faced as a child.

Alistair is a Giant Man-child

Alistair in the camp in "Dragon Age: Origins."

Alistair in the camp in "Dragon Age: Origins."

From Alistair's perspective, the Warden has "betrayed" him by not killing the man who killed his friends. Alistair's romance—as well as his friendship—is superficial because it relies on the condition that the Warden always do exactly what he wants. If Alistair really loved the Warden, he would have sucked it up, become king, let Loghain become a Grey Warden, and gone on to help you defeat the Blight.

Becoming king and being a Grey Warden was Alistair's duty. Throughout the game, he's gun-ho, duty and honor-bound, always going on about how he'd paid any price to stop the Blight and even lecturing the Warden about sacrifice and what it means to be a Grey Warden (he does this a lot in the beginning of the game, actually. Especially if the Warden comments that dying early is a high price to pay). To me, this is just Alistair trying to emulate Duncan. It's lip service. Because when things get serious, he's the first one to walk.

Alistair walked on my most recent playthrough because I forgot to harden him (mostly ignored him and didn't talk to him much). But even if you harden Alistair, he still turns his back on you and leaves the party.

The speech he gives at the landsmeet about how being a Grey Warden is an "honor" and not a "punishment" shows what a childish black and white mentality he has. He sees the Grey Wardens as romanticized heroes—not the conscripted criminals, thieves, murderers, and thugs they often are. Even Duncan was conscripted because he was a thief and a murderer!

Alistair is blinded by so many childish delusions; it shouldn't be shocking that he would walk out of the landsmeet.

Alistair is a Tad Racist

Alistair romances an elf Warden.

Alistair romances an elf Warden.

Like Leliana, who can go on about elves like pretty mares at a horse show, Alistair is low-key racist. He is not a malevolent muhahaha racist who wants all elves to die. He's more of a "I don't see elves as people and I'm generally suspicious of them but I don't wish them any harm" racist.

Romancing Alistair as an elf means being grossed out by his excitement about sleeping with an elf (ugh), listening to jokes about getting mugged in the alienage, or putting up with the way he vilifies Zevran, not because he's a literal assassin but because he's . . . "the elf."

The more you really pay attention to Alistair, the more obvious it becomes that he does not see elves as people, even if he doesn't really wish them any harm. He seems to fetish elven women (like father like son, I guess) and is suspicious of elves in general.

Alistair grew up in Denerim (at least, I believe that's the chantry where Eamon dumped him. I could be wrong), so he's no doubt been exposed to a lot of angry, oppressed elves who smile to their master's face and then badmouth them while mucking out horse stalls. He's probably seen a lot of elves get hung for stealing bread from the larder to feed their family (when they can't afford to in the first place because they're paid a pittance).

In Alistair's experience, elves are murderers and criminals and thieves that can't be trusted, and like most racists, he never stops to ask why that is. It's easier to just shrug and condemn an entire people as worthless.

And before Denerim, Alistair was living in Eamon's palace, where the elves were servants who had to smile and kiss his ass, pretending to be humble and meek and/or being grumpy and pissed when he tracked in mud. This was the only context in which he ever interacted with them.

The Warden is probably the first elf Alistair has ever really interacted with as an equal. It makes perfect sense that he would have a covert prejudice. Doesn't mean I have to like it or like him for it.

As a black person who has to deal with ignorant racists who are excited about sleeping with me because I'm black (we have the same exact anatomy as you, dumbass) . . . It's a deeply unpleasant feeling to re-experience in a video game, even if it isn't real. So (finally) noticing the way Alistair views elves is something that made me like him a lot less than I did before I made these unfortunate connections.

Alistair and mage Warden.

Alistair and mage Warden.

Unfortunately, Alistair is the exact same way toward mages. His only exposure to them (what little he's ever had) has been in the context of the Chantry decrying them as evil.

Unless the Warden herself is a mage, Alistair acts as if Wynne is the only "good" mage on the planet (he actually states this in party banter). And of course he thinks that. Wynne set a bully's hair on fire when she was a child, so she thinks this is proof that the Circles are necessary. She is little more than a compliant slave. Of course Alistair, the former templar, likes her.

He always makes an exception for Wynne, even when he doesn't know her! When you first arrive at the Circle, he will try to stop you and Morrigan from killing her, even if he just told you to annul the Circle five minutes before.

When discussing journeying to the Circle to aid Conner, Alistair implies that the mages are crappy people who won't be willing to help ("If they would even do it"), yet you get there and First Enchanter Irving helps you immediately without question.

So given all this, it shouldn't be surprising that Alistair wants to kill all the mages in the Circle, even though not all of them were involved with Uldred. Of course, they could be abominations, but his protests, to me, just sound like a calmer version of Cullen's paranoid ravings.

And it's funny how Alistair has no problem making a pragmatic decision when it involves killing mages. He'll throw a tantrum about killing Conner, but only because he wants to make nice with Arl Eamon....and sadly, that's only because he can't see how Eamon abused him as a child and only wants to use him now as a tool. Loghain is the freaking villain, but he is 100% right about Eamon wanting a puppet.

And again, Morrigan is also right about Alistair. He's a fool, he's a child who puts all the burden on the Warden, and he hates mages. This is pretty messed up on Alistair's part. What he wants to do in annulling the Circle is actually no different than Meredith wanting to kill all the mages for the actions of Anders at the end of Dragon Age 2, and yet he gets a pass from so many fans, it makes my head spin.

I guess I can't judge them. I, too, once had the Alistair fever. I, too, once actually liked this character. But the more I examine him as a person, the less I like him as a person.

I like that he's so well written. I like that he's flawed. But I don't like him. I just can't like him anymore. Especially since I love playing elven mages above all else.

Enchanter Fiona as she appeared in "Dragon Age: Inquisition."

Enchanter Fiona as she appeared in "Dragon Age: Inquisition."

Ironically, Alistair's mother is an elven mage. She is basically the epitome of everything Alistair hates, fears, dehumanizes, and suspects in the world . . . and she's his mother.

It's a shame we never see Alistair and Fiona meet. Would be interesting to see if his prejudices ever changed after having met her.

It's interesting because King Alistair will drop you like a hot potato if you romance him and are anything but a human noble Warden. People make the argument that it's "realistic" that Alistair would choose to leave the Warden if they don't meet the bigoted criteria of what Fereldans would want in a queen . . . but it's also pretty cowardly on Alistair's part.

Change happens because someone pushes for it. Putting a mage or an elf or even a dwarf on the Fereldan throne might have made Fereldans hate Alistair as their king, but it would have been the beginning of a new era in Thedas.

If Alistair isn't willing to face possible assassination and political intrigue in the name of love, then he isn't worthy of the Warden, dammit.

To be honest, I mostly feel this way because I'm a Lord of the Rings fan, and I always loved it that Aragorn, a human (of elven descent), married Arwen, an elven princess. In fact, my Dalish mage who romanced Alistair (who is half-elven, lest we forget) was named Arwen. So how ironic was it when she made Alistair king . . . and then he dumped her in front of her all of her friends? No happy Lord of the Rings alliance for me.

The thing is, Dragon Age was based on A Song of Fire and Ice, not Lord of the Rings, which it actually went out of its way to subvert. For instance, Zevran and Oghren make a cheeky remark about elves and dwarves hating each other. Instead of being powerful and angelic beings of beauty and light, the elves in Dragon Age are angry, oppressed, small, bald, and ugly. Meanwhile, the qunari are just "orcs" who, instead of being minions dumbly following a mage, actually hate magic and are quite intelligent to boot. Makes sense that a human-elf marriage would also be torn apart and ridiculed here.

But either way, dumping the non-noble Warden makes Alistair look cowardly, and frankly, it's insulting that the Warden's only choice is to be his mistress or get dumped. Like I've said on other articles, it often feels as if female Warden is continuously being punished in Origins. Because not only does Alistair dump you, he does it in front of your entire party, with everyone gathered in the room watching. Why was it even necessary to humiliate the female Warden like this? And when does the male Warden ever have to go through something similar as far as romances go?

Yes, Zevran can betray you. But that situation can be avoided entirely. The female non-human-noble will always find herself in a situation where she must become Alistair's mistress or get dumped. She can only avoid this if she doesn't make him king. (Don't even get me started on the Dark Ritual.)

Anyway. The point is, Alistair treats non-noble Warden pretty badly. And the fact that Hawke can become viscount while still publicly romancing Fenris (an elf) or Merrill (an elf-mage) makes Alistair look twice as sh*tty.

One thing I love about Merrill's romance is how afraid Merrill is of making the nobles hate Hawke. But Hawke insists on openly living with a Dalish mage and being her lover, the nobles be damned. It's so daring and romantic . . .

Also, mage Hawke can marry Sebastian, a prince, and no one bats an eye. And Leliana will carry on with an elven and/or mage Warden if she becomes Divine in Inquisition, this after making reforms to allow elves in the Chantry.

And Cassandra, if she becomes Divine in Inquisition, also carries on with her non-human/non-noble lover. The only reason she can't marry them is because she's technically married to the Maker, which makes sense. But she still is with them, they just aren't some kind of "mistress" or side piece or dirty secret, as basically everyone seems to know about it.

Again, Alistair is just. . . awful. And I think it took Dragon Age 2 to make a lot of Alistair fans (myself included) really realize and accept that.

Me No Love Alistair Anymore

Alistair at the landsmeet.

Alistair at the landsmeet.

In essence, now that I'm an adult, Alistair's goofy, selfish, childish, racist ass and his sappy romance doesn't appeal to me in the slightest. And yet, probably the hardest thing about hating Alistair as a person is that he's still very loveable as a character. He's just so entertaining, it's hard to imagine Dragon Age without him.

And even hating Alistair as a person is hard because no matter how crappy you treat him . . . He still longs for your approval! It's very sad, like a kicked puppy or something. In fact, that's exactly what he is: a kicked, abused puppy dog. First he was abused by Arl Eamon and Lady Isolde. Then he was lonely and isolated in the chantry. Then he finally gets a family with the Grey Wardens and they're killed, only to have the remaining Grey Warden treat him like crap.

I did a playthrough where my Dalish was very pragmatic and routinely mocked and dismissed Alistair, so Alistair hated her and pretty much everything she did. His relationship bar was at full hostility by the half-way point of the game. And yet, he still looked down at her, pinched his brows together sadly, and said, "I guess I just wanted you to like me!"

. . . Sigh.

And even when he completely hates your character, Alistair is still nice to them and tries to support them. Alistair was nothing but nice to my evil Dalish at the Temple of Sacred Ashes and again when Tamlen appeared in the camp and my Dalish Warden was forced to kill him. He's such a genuinely nice person that even when I hate him I feel bad for it!

As a result, even my characters who are annoyed by Alistair can recognize that he's just a giant kid and grudgingly try to make friends with him by giving him gifts. And I believe this was intentional on the writer's part. The Warden's relationship with Alistair was supposed to mirror Maric and Loghain, who had a very hate/love relationship in the books.

So in short, Alistair is very well-written, very annoying, very childlike, flawed, ignorant and racist. But he's still enjoyable and great to have around.

It really speaks to the writing in Origins that fans are still writing ten page essays about these characters ten years later, while no one . . . really cares much for the characters in Inquisition.

© 2019 Lee

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