Bioware’s Dragon Age series is one of the most lore-rich fantasy RPGs out there. In addition to three engrossing games (Origins, Dragon Age 2, and Inquisition) and another one the way (Dreadwolf), the stories of the mythical continent of Thedas and its inhabitants have been told across comics, anthologies, novels, and more fan art that an AI could even consider making (not to mention fanfic). And with the animated Netflix series Absolution, Dragon Age has now come to TV as well.
In an email Q&A, Absolution Showrunner/EP Mairghread Scott and Dragon Age Creative Director John Epler shared a few insights about their plans for the series, its connection to the games (particularly Dragon Age 2), and what viewers should and shouldn’t take away from the storytelling regarding any “canon” narratives. And while we couldn’t talk about the upcoming Dreadwolf specifically, there was certainly plenty else to dive into—especially regarding Absolution’s surprising final moments.
Though Absolution has its own satisfying arc, it also ends in way that clearly sets up a second season (and perhaps beyond). In terms of plans for more, Scott noted “as a TV writer, I’ll take as many episodes and seasons as anyone will give me.” Of course, there’s always a lot of uncertainty surrounding Netflix’s plans for its series, many of which are cancelled after a single season. And that would be a big blow for Absolution in particular, which introduced us to a lovable group of rogues that—given the short episode order—we only got glimpses of beyond Miriam’s compelling main story.
“It was really important for me to make sure Season 1 was Miriam’s story first and foremost and she’ll still always be our lead,” Scott wrote. “But we’ve developed quite a crew of characters that a lot of fans (including the writers) care deeply about. Lacklon, Roland, and Qwydion have always had lives and stories of their own, and I’m very excited to tell them.” More specifically, she added “I’ll also throw out that I can’t wait to see how the Imperial Divine reacts to all of this. Tassia’s troubles are just starting on that front.”
Absolution feels like something of a trial balloon for the creation of more fantasy stories from Bioware’s creative arsenal beyond the games; if it proves popular enough, the series could continue to expand this world that has come to mean so much to the fandom. Though there are no plans that can be shared at the moment, “I think the way to look at all of our story content is that it’s all contributing to the rich narrative tapestry that is Thedas and that is Dragon Age,” Epler shared. “When we refer to the Dragon Age franchise, we’re not just talking about the core games—we’re talking about all of it, because it all works to build context and nuance and a richness to the world that you can’t really get to with just the games themselves.”
Still, Absolution does have a very close connection to one of the games: Dragon Age 2. In the concluding moments of the final episode, the show returns to Kirkwall, where we hear the voice of Knight Commander Meredith—supposedly defeated by the player character Hawke after Meredith was corrupted by a lyrium idol at the end of the game—scheming again against mages and, in particular, Tevinter. While we don’t know the exact timeline of this conversation (where Meredith seems to be speaking from within the idol itself), it’s a connection that fans were definitely not expecting. And it suggests a return to (as well as redemption for) a game that was unfairly maligned upon release, but which has since found vocal defenders.
“Dragon Age 2 was the first full game I ever created content for—I was in QA up ‘til then, and became a cinematic designer for that project—so even before Dragon Age 2 started getting its second wind, I’ve always had a special place for it in my heart,” Epler wrote. “Any time we get a chance to go back to Kirkwall, I love it, because I think Kirkwall, in many ways, embodies one of the most fundamental truths about Thedas (and in particular, Thedas during this particular Age) which is that bad things happen, a lot, and sometimes the best you can do is take care of the people close to you—and sometimes you can’t even do that.”
The implication of Meredith not being destroyed along with the idol, though, feels like it has some damning consequences for Hawke, a beloved player character who gives everything to save their family and friends and put things to right in Kirkwall, which doesn’t always go as expected (in fact it almost never goes as expected). “Any day that Kirkwall isn’t actively on fire is a success in my book,” Scott told us. “And Hawke’s success should never be diminished. I want everyone who played Hawke to feel proud of what they did (including myself). That said, Meredith was tangling with forces beyond her understanding and at the end of the show we get to see a hint of the consequences of those entanglements. No Dragon Age story is truly stand alone and events in one part of Thedas are always going to have ripples that affect the rest of the world and its characters.”
Regarding those implications, there are a number of scenes in Absolution that seem to hint at a specific world state going into Dreadwolf after Inquisition. One of the things that makes the Dragon Age franchise so replayable is the variety of choices players can make that shape their world and the relationships around them. Bioware even set up a “Dragon Age Keep” online so that fans can go in and tweak choices and world states made in previous games, before loading into DA2 or Inquisition, in order to experience different outcomes during new playthroughs.
But though Dragon Age acolytes have long suspected that Bioware has a preferred or core canon narrative that drives the overall story, both Epler and Scott caution against those assumptions, or predicting what certain scenes in Absolution might mean for the games both in the past and moving forward. “It’s always a tricky balance to strike—how do you respect player choice and autonomy when you tell what is ultimately a linear, unchanging story?” Epler wrote. “And ultimately, you do that by telling a story where those choices are never really brought to the forefront. Because regardless of your intentions, the moment you make a decision on a choice, even if it’s just being made for the show, or book, or comic, you’re telling the audience ‘this is the “real” decision.’ And that strips away autonomy and choice, which are, obviously, pillars of the Dragon Age franchise. So the best solution is a lot of plausible deniability: leave the interpretation up to the player so they don’t feel as though they’ve been locked in.”
“Respecting player choices was Number 1 on our priorities’ list as the writers of Absolution, and we worked hard to phrase things and present them in a way that we feel accommodates whatever decisions were made by Dragon Age players,” Scott explained. “We were very careful not to say when the Cassandra/Leliana flashback is in the timeline and in what capacity the two women are speaking. That flashback could have been before anyone was formally named Divine or they could have been ‘tying up loose ends’ afterwards (Neither of these women are the type to leave things half-finished).”
“As for the Inquisition, how you want to define ‘broke up’ and when that happened is also up to the player’s choices. Don’t take what Hira and Fairbanks say as being any more than what’s true from their point of view. Finally, for ‘Herald of Andraste’ anyone who’s ever gotten stuck with a nickname can tell you how hard it is to shake them, whether you like them or not.”
Hopefully, Absolution will get that chance to explore these implications and all of Thedas further. As far as their hopes for what could happen next in the world of Dragon Age overall, Epler wrote, “there are so many places we’ve never gone before in the franchise, whether in the games or in the ancillary narrative products, and if I started giving my list of ‘places I want to visit’, I think I’d run out of space. I guess suffice to say I think there are an almost infinite number of interesting stories still to tell and I hope we get a chance to tell more of them.”
Allison Keene is the TV Editor of Paste Magazine. For more television talk, pop culture chat and general japery, you can follow her @keeneTV
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