Can't read her poker face. What can I say? She's very good at what she does. --- A young light skinned, flaxen haired woman wearing a finely detailed light blue, copper collared robe.

Goddess Save the Queen: Dragon Age’s Queen Anora

When I roleplay I often use some of the better characters I’ve come across in my time playing video games as templates. These are characters I found to be unusually well-textured, motivated, in-depth and interesting and could provide the basis for characters like them in various private RPs I’ve involved myself in. Lately my thoughts turned to someone I remembered very fondly from Dragon Age. Queen Anora Theirin.

Queen Anora is the consummate politician—a woman who is not only aware of the great game of political chess that spreads before her in the palace but who is an unmatched grandmaster. Cunning is a word for her, to be sure; she knows what she is doing and does not hesitate to sacrifice pawns if need be. What vexes the player is what her endgame is. By the time you get to truly know Queen Anora, you are nearing the end of Dragon Age and hurriedly deciding who you wish to support as supreme ruler of Ferelden. Anora is unequivocal and enthusiastic: she believes without a shadow of doubt that she is the best person for the job.

But what does she want to do with that power? (Spoilers Follow: Sorry, it’s just one of those articles!)

Can't read her poker face. What can I say? She's very good at what she does. --- A young light skinned, flaxen haired woman wearing a finely detailed light blue, copper collared robe.

The Maven of Realpolitik

For my own part, from my first playthrough onwards I never stopped adoring Anora. She is not just competent but she is brilliant and skilled. She already has proven herself: she was the real power behind the throne while her late-husband pretended to be some dashing knight. While he sought dragons to slay (who might as well have been windmills) she actually undertook the adult work of administering the country and ensuring it ran as smoothly as possible.

I think more than a few married hetero women can empathise with this particular state of affairs.

She is a hard woman, to be quite sure. But her stoic seriousness and determination is hardly something I’d rate as a weakness. It was precisely a lack of seriousness and maturity that made her husband something less than an inspiring king.

In the endings where I ensured she was made ruler of Ferelden (which was all but one where I wanted to play out a different ending) she never lead the nation astray. Her competence and calculating talents lead the nation into a golden age, in fact, and allowed her to become not only a skilled ruler but a beloved one. What was her motivation? Why did she want power? Because she wanted the ruling of Ferelden to be done right. I can hardly fault her for this, given the competition. Alistair is cuddly and lovable and he does, in some endings, come into his own as a king. But from the perspective of my character who cannot see into the future, Anora comes across as a much safer pair of hands who has the benefit of actually wanting to do the job.

So, Anora is a skilled chess player of a political dark horse, a serious woman who strategises in a cunning, sometimes emotionless way to do what she feels is right. There is a shadow around her, but she is far from being evil. So what do other Dragon Age players think of this forthright woman who says what she means and has the audacity to tout her competence from the highest hilltops? Well…

Lying, conniving, treacherous bitch, it’s true!

 

I hate her soooo much

 

I kept hoping for a way to kill her after she betrayed me to Ser Cauthrien

 

I wanted kill her too.

 

me too and even she betrayed her father because she want to be a queen:/ I rly hate her

 

I wish there was a slap Anora mod. Just so I could save before it and do it over and over again XD
*is definately using*

 

Double crossing bitch!!!! DIE!!!

 

You bitch! Seriously hate her, she couldn’t be more grabby and “I wantz teh crown”

 

I wish I could smack that stupid hair right off her.

 

When she betrayed me I was like “GIVE ME ONE GOOD REASON NOT TO TEAR YOUR HAIR OFF YOUR HEAD BEOTCH!”

(Any spelling errors are in the original)

Well… erm. I see. Interesting.

A Queen, Not a Doormat

All of the above quotes are from one thread on DeviantArt. I came to realise very quickly that Anora was actually rather hated by many in the fan community. In the end I wasn’t surprised. Falling Awkwardly’s Kateri, one of the most intellectual and thoughtful games analysts I’ve read and a Border House guest writer, said it best:

A few words about Anora. Dear Anora. Many players have had words to say about Anora. “Bitch” is one. “Scheming bitch” are others, also “scheming, backstabbing, manipulative, selfish, power-hungry bitch”. Arl Eamon even calls her “…spirited”, in tones that make it very clear what he actually means. “Spirited” belongs in that category of Victorian-novel style words, along with “feisty”, and “lively” that means (to paraphrase Rebecca West) “woman who differentiates herself from a doormat”, which is to say, “bitch”. As far as I can see,  the whole “bitch” thing is because Anora has the temerity to think she’d make a better ruler than Alistair, and says so.

I could not have said it better myself.

Several of the commentors above reference a betrayal that Anora perpetrates on your character. This is a reference to a scene where your character is caught by Teyrn Loghain’s guards after you try to rescue Queen Anora from captivity on an estate. Anora turns you in and claims you kidnapped her.

There are several things to be said about this:

  • She apologises for this later and is clearly not proud of having had to do it.
  • She made a split second decision in the midst of a political climate where her father, abusing his power, would easily have hurt her if he knew she was in league with your character—the much sought after Grey Warden. She was forced to make a painful choice by her father’s despotic behaviour and the fact that he might try to hurt her, as was evidenced by the fact that he sanctioned her kidnapping by a subordinate in the first place.
  • This kind of decisiveness is oft cited as a needed political skill. Had it been demonstrated in a man he would doubtless have been praised for it.

There is also something else to be said about the question of “betrayal” here. Let’s reference another commentor on the subject and plumb the depths of their limitless wisdom:

Yeah she could betray her own father because she want be qeen:/
I hate her but I respects Loghain because he rly fought with Orlais and he tried protected king Maric

What Teyrn Loghain ‘rly’ did was put the entire country in danger so he could off King Cailan at the Battle of Ostagar, condemning legions of soldiers and mages to their deaths and precipitating a crisis that pushed his country to the brink of civil war in the midst of a once in a lifetime epic invasion. “Treason” is almost the least of Loghain’s crimes here. Throughout the game you are also treated to the quasi-tyranny with which Loghain administers the country and to the fundamental fact that while Loghain was a good general, he is a terrible diplomat who is about as graceful and elegant as a sledgehammer.

His daughter, on the other hand, knows more than a thing or two about running a country and she is decidedly not a tyrant, as her endings clearly demonstrate.

Anora made a very difficult decision in turning on her father’s rule, and she did so for reasons that are unshakably just: Loghain was abusing his power. In the endings where your player or Alistair kills Loghain, she is clearly angered and distraught at having had to do so. She never wanted to betray her father to his death the way that he betrayed King Cailan to a rather grisly fate.

But because Teyrn Loghain is a bloke, he’s still respectable. Because Anora is a woman who does not denigrate herself, she is a lying, traitorous, manipulative bitch.

There should be no doubt, however, that Anora is a leader. If you support her elevation to full leadership of the country you are treated to cutscenes of her effecting that leadership. She comes across less as power-mad than eager to take the reins because she knows what needs to be done and how best to do it. As she rallies the soldiers for a great battle against the Darkspawn in Denerim, one sees her fulfilling the true aims of leadership in a time of crisis.

For Queen and Country! -- Queen Anora wearing full battle armour, leading enthusiastic troops complete with oversize maces into battle on a field of war shrouded under a dark orange sky.

 

A brief note should also be spared here. Intrepid searching and reading in the game world can lead the player to rumours that Queen Anora is barren and was unable to bear her husband an heir. A DLC pack also reveals that King Cailan was planning to set her aside for a woman who could bear him a child.

The implications of this are clear: she must also struggle against people who view her less as a leader and more as a womb, including her erstwhile husband. With her talents she believes her first duty to her kingdom is to lead it with maturity and competence, not to make babies for it. That she did not resign herself to being a broodmare for the kingdom may just be another reason why so many gamers seem to despise her.

Anora, it must be said, embodies several nightmares for particular kinds of men (at least, the particular kinds who predominate in gaming communities, whose fears I’ve discussed elsewhere). She is a woman who does not wish to bear children, she is a woman who knows what she wants and knows how to get it, she is a woman who is cable of manipulation and skilful manoeuvring, and thus as a result is a woman who does not prostrate herself before the wills of others, least of all men. She is neither pliable nor biddable, and she is also not in the game as a sex object. Unable to fulfil the masculinist fantasy of a bobbleheaded fawning yes-woman and sex toy, she immediately becomes the target of their rage, and the rage of women eager to impress men and prove to them that they aren’t “like that.”

The Audacity of Pride

I look up to characters like Anora, with her unapologetic tooting of her own horn, because even I still struggle not to self-deprecate. For all I’ve accomplished, I downplay it routinely, undersell myself, speak in qualifiers and half measures. I’ve gotten better at catching myself and being bolder, but it still plagues me. I make myself smaller and less threatening because I intrinsically know strong women rapidly become targets.

It’s not hard to see this in video games. Bastila Shan of Knights of the Old Republic, another forthright woman who speaks her mind and has profound confidence in her abilities, is routinely called a bitch. When men see a woman who is not on her knees begging for his undying love, she rapidly becomes a threat, and it does not take a genius to figure out why that is. I love Anora precisely because she humbles herself to no man. She knows she is brilliant and is unafraid to say so: I won’t make any bones about saying I want to be like that.

Anora is cunning and manipulative but she is no moreso than the men trying to manoeuvre Alistair onto the throne, no moreso than her father who sought to end the reign of a deeply incompetent king. One of these people is not like the other, and of course Anora is the odd man out because she isn’t a man. She does have flaws, yes, there is no question about this. Were she a real person and were I in a political debate with her, I’d have a thing or two to say to her. But her flaws are what make her human. I suspect that another thing that annoys some of her critics of all genders is that she is not a fairy tale queen– neither a perfect villainess nor an alabaster angel. She is a human being. Would I read a novel about Anora struggling with her flaws? Definitely. She is a compelling and thought-provoking character who exists on her own merits.

Queen Anora is, to me, an inspiring figure. She was born a commoner, after all, and rose in society to become (in some possible endings to the game) ruler of Ferelden, and not just any queen but one who could use her great talents to usher in a golden age for the beleaguered country. Her lack of royal blood is used against her by some in the game, and is listed by more than a few as a reason she shouldn’t assume the throne. It’s all the more reason I loved her. In one fell swoop she deals a blow to the concept of a royal line and its inherent classism and proves that this hardworking woman, born a commoner, could not only lead but do so with aplomb.

She is a woman who, from her own father to her royal husband, has been in the shadow of men who granted her boons in the midst of patriarchy.

It was my pleasure to help her seize the opportunity to rule in her own name.

Anora where she belongs. --- A light skinned woman holding a golden goblet, wearing blue and red finery with a white ermine trim. Image Credit: Aimo on DeviantArt

41 thoughts on “Goddess Save the Queen: Dragon Age’s Queen Anora”

  1. *standing ovation*

    I do adore Anora. (And am very flattered to be quoted! By Quinnae! Who has read my blog! omg *faints*.)

    I can’t help adding the thing that irritates me most about players complaining that Anora “betrayed” them when you’re escaping from the mansion: she only does that if YOU betray her first! The main thing she asks you to do is: if we are captured, do NOT reveal my identity. So if, when captured, the player yells, “Hey, LOOK I’m with ANORA, she’s HERE!!” like a goddamn fool, what should we expect her to do?
    She told you to hide her identity from her father’s guards to avoid the revelation that she’s betrayed him for YOU. If you then start shouting this to the rooftops, she knows, not being stupid, that her only chance of survival is to pretend she’s being kidnapped, thus “doublecrossing” the player. Which the player, at this point, richly deserves, as they just stabbed her in the back!

    Yay Anora! Yay Queen “Bitch”! <3

    1. You flatter me. *smiles and bows* Really, I felt I couldn’t compliment you enough, you are a wonderful writer who can probe very deep for meaning in games, and do so with a rare credibility that is professional and fun to read. Your series, the Metaphysics of Morrowind, was a fangirlgasm for me of the most peculiar kind. It was as if you gave me college-level scooby snacks about one of my favourite games of all time.

      That you think well of me is a compliment, I can only *hope* to write like you someday. Sometimes I wonder if your more measured style wouldn’t suit articles like the one I tried to write here, but I am a rhetorical pugilist at heart I suppose!

      Thanks also for further clarifying the incident with Ser Cauthrien! A very nice explanation indeed.

      I actually like Ser Cauthrien as well– there is a fair bit of character packed into that woman, whose screen appearances are relatively brief. Even in her bit appearances there is a clear arc of character development and she comes off as being very much a noble soldier, another inspiring woman character.

      But yes, Anora… I’m a fangirl. She’s just my kind of character. I admit I tend to go for the broody, cerebral sorts as well (same reason I squeed over Kreia of KotOR2 in an earlier article for TBH). They can understandably rub people the wrong way at times for perfectly legitimate reasons, but I personally love them.

      I think the main point I missed in writing this article (and you can see my reply to lian below for my thoughts on writing this piece) was that I should have emphasised that love her or hate her Anora was *human*– flawed as she may be they were the flaws that come from being a human being and not, say, a sex object or a waif-like maiden of virtue. Anora became a flesh and blood character that was possessed of very human political cunning, and all the admiration and suspicion that such a skill can court.

      Thanks so much for commenting. :)

  2. Anora sounds like an admirable character indeed.

    I’m not sure I would wholeheartedly support someone who moves people around as if they’re pawns on a chessboard (implied by your use of ‘realpolitik’), but I think I would forgive her some missteps if she gets the job (i.e. leading the country to lasting peace) done.

    But perhaps it is the fate of people in high places to be misunderstood by their subjects from time to time. Maybe Anora’s subjects felt like those quoted gamers sometimes too?

  3. As always interesting to read.
    Personally this aspect of DA:O I think was very interesting and well made. I mean by it, this resolution of power and who takes the throne in the end and how to look on people who rule others and not this boring Archdeamon and blight darkspawn blah blah. I think game did very good to question popular stereotypes regarding kings and queens and left rather questions for player to answer themselves. We have Cailen and Alistair, we see it very clear that they are not fit to rule though they have legitimacy to do so, and we have Loghain and Anora who are fit to rule. Yet nothing good comes to people of Ferelden from Loghain seizing power, personally for me game hinted that Anora is very much like her father, a skilled ruler and politician, knowing that it will be best for the country for him/her to take the throne. Wouldn’t be better if at the very beginning Cailen just stepped down or was never elected as a king and was Loghain a traitor or a hero? Yet power corrupts and being best suited for this task does not protect from this and atrocities that will follow. We don’t know how things would end if Cailen wasn’t betrayed as we don’t know where Queen Anora will lead Ferelden, but what I feel from finishing DA:O it’s that things won’t rather end with “She/he keeps happily ruling ever after” but rather there will be a lot of bloodshed, treason and war.

  4. First off, I have absolutely no doubt that a significant portion of the sheer spite Anora faces is indeed misogynistic in origin, as with so many other women who aspire to be more some guy’s simpering toilet.

    But I still can’t stand her.

    I wanted to like her, and initially it did. There is so much she has going for her. The story of a woman who is at least twice as smart, responsible and mature as her starry-eyed glory-hounding husband, does all the real work but is nonetheless pushed into the shadows, has to endure his infidelity and all the blame for not producing in heir, then is left grieving for this man she liked anyway as he is betrayed on the field, and her own father ripping all the power out of her hands and treating her like a toddler barely capable of tying her own shoelaces … yeah, it’s hard NOT to root for her.

    You forgot to mention by the way the sexism inherent in how that blame is so unquestionably laid on her and only her. It takes two to breed. Basic biology. But of course the man, the KING, could not be “defective” now could he? It has to be the woman. Despite Cailan’s infidelity, there is no mention of any bastards. So why doesn’t anyone in the game ever wonder if maybe it is him who is to blame for the childless marriage?

    Still, my sympathy for her went right out of the window in that scene with Cauthrien. She can say “I told you not to give me away” all she likes. My character — who, in every origin, has lost at least as much as Anora and usually had much much less to begin with (the two noble origins aside) — has spent month putting her ass on the line for Ferelden, and now puts said ass on the line for Anora despite knowing fully well how dangerous it is and knowing that Ferelden is doomed if she (the Warden) is killed or captured, tortured, mutilated and THEN killed. So the least I’d expect in return is a smidgen of support in return, support that might have a small shot at hammering the truth into Cauthrien’s head, not an immediate squeal-and-run. If she’d rather be back with her murderous, paranoid, treasonous father, that’s her choice. She can choke on that choice for all I care at that point. Nothing she said afterwards had any ring of sincerity for me anymore and all I could think was “You’re just trying to play me like a fiddle aren’t you?”

    But I admit I really hate politicians. *shrug* I look at it from the simple adventurer’s/warrior’s perspective where if you can’t trust someone in battle, you can’t trust them period. And if they lie at the drop of the hat for their own gain, you certainly can’t trust them either. I was really really sick of the lies and the backstabbing and the political pissing contest at that point and just wanted get back to STOPPING THE BLIGHT.

    Alistair has his faults for certain, but I’d rather bet on a good person’s ability to become a decent politician than on a great politician’s ability to be a decent person.

    Anora wasn’t born a commoner by the way, her father was. Though I have no doubt that some of the snobbish “old blood” must have treated them both with disdain for being “upstarts” — at least behind their backs.

    1. Ugh, typos and mangled sentences galore. I really shouldn’t post right after sauna when my brain is still overheated. :p

    2. I must ask, I’ve not played any of the DLCs but I’ve read a summary of Return to Ostagar, and I can’t remember Cailan being ‘infidel’. Ready to leave Anora for a what seemed like an excellent political alliance, after refusing for years to leave her just because she was supposedly barren, yes. Being a ladies’ man like his father? It didn’t look that way.

      “The implications of this are clear: she must also struggle against people who view her less as a leader and more as a womb, including her erstwhile husband.”

      Aren’t you being a little harsh on Cailan here? A letter found in the vanilla game, written by Arl Eamon, clearly indicated that Cailan was NOT ready to abandon Anora because she was supposedly barren. It was even a point of contention with his uncle.

      The Return to Ostagar DLC hints at a political marriage, some grand alliance plans. Heck, some people started to wonder if Cailan was really so incompetent after that DLC. In the light of what his plans were, a sound victory at Ostagar would have made one hell of a bargaining chip in that relationship. Even his carefree, ‘heroic’ attitude could be seen as a tool to keep morale somewhat up in his ranks.

      As for Anora herself, I think her pragmatism did rub me the wrong way. I can’t remember what I said when she asked Cauthrien to arrest me though. I think my first answer had been to back up her story somehow. In the end I left the kingdom in the ends of Alistair and her.

      Also, if you get the ‘good’ ending for Alistair as King, he seems to be the first male of his family in four generations to be actually competent. His great-grandfather was a joke, his grandmother was a leader, his father seemed like a good warrior but a poor king and politician, and his half-brother was (apparently) an imbecile.

      1. Cailan is one of the topics you can discuss with Anora after Fort Drakon, and she tells you that he wasn’t faithful to her.

    3. Thank you as always for your considered replies.

      I was definitely kicking myself as I read through your comment largely because I really *should* have mentioned the fact that it was itself sexist to assume that Anora was the infertile one, which is just one of many layers of issues surrounding perceptions of this character, and I unconsciously played into that, so I’m quite sorry.

      As I understand it, Anora was, technically, born a commoner but her father’s elevation to Teyrn occurred early in her life.

      But otherwise, as I said to lian, I think I could’ve stood, perhaps, to make it clear that Anora is by no means perfect or impossible to dislike for any reason other than misogyny.

      As I said in the article:

      She does have flaws, yes, there is no question about this. Were she a real person and were I in a political debate with her, I’d have a thing or two to say to her. But her flaws are what make her human. I suspect that another thing that annoys some of her critics of all genders is that she is not a fairy tale queen– neither a perfect villainess nor an alabaster angel. She is a human being. Would I read a novel about Anora struggling with her flaws? Definitely. She is a compelling and thought-provoking character who exists on her own merits.

      I thought that paragraph would be enough to remind readers that I certainly didn’t see her as beyond reproach. I didn’t dwell on her flaws because I felt those were dealt with elsewhere in greater detail and I wanted to devote the heft of the article to expounding on why I *liked* Anora.

      But it was certainly not my intention to imply that the only reason one might dislike or look askance at Anora was misogyny, that just seems to drive *most* of the attacks on her. But I would not consider the considered criticism you and others give to be attacks. Those are the more literary critiques that a reasonable person seeing Anora as a human rather than an “uppity woman” might be compelled to give and I never meant to suggest those were verboten or somehow sexist.

      Also:

      but I’d rather bet on a good person’s ability to become a decent politician than on a great politician’s ability to be a decent person.

      A rather wise statement, that. I think I’ll borrow that, if you don’t mind. ;)

      Anyway, thank you for your comments.

  5. I love this post so much, I want to take long walks on the beach with it. I love Anora, she’s amazing, and all the hate she gets is truly ridiculous. Well done!!

  6. Well… one can still respect a character for all the reasons you mention and still dislike them immensely. I was as dismayed by the misogynist “shrewd bitch” comments as you were — and the overall mass of them! but I do believe you go a bit overboard and heavily imply that everyone who doesn’t love Anora must suffer from (internalized) misogyny.

    I like Anora as a character, and her complexity, but in-game, my characters certainly didn’t trust her and (depending on the playthrough) outright hated her as a formidable adversary. Sort of: I do give more leeway to “in the heat of the moment” emotional reactions over that betrayal, and the fact that few people differentiate between player character/player emotions. (Sort of like Alistair’s romance arc where he drops you. Hoo boy. Not arguing that his overall reception/standing among the fanbase is almost 180° different, though!)

    But…that doesn’t make *any* negative reaction *inherently* misogynist.

    Such as:

    This kind of decisiveness is oft cited as a needed political skill. Had it been demonstrated in a man he would doubtless have been praised for it.

    … not really? as in, in that situation, that betrayal hurts, no matter if they are male or female — compare with Bhelen Aeducan. He’s undoubtedly the better king for Orzammar, as Anora is the better queen, but he’s still a backstabbing kinslaying bastard :P

    I’m not arguing that Anora is getting *disproportionally* more (and differently flavoured — read: sexualised) hate because she is a woman, but I’m a bit disappointed that your essay is polemical rather than nuanced to bring that point across so forcefully.

    So, kudos to BioWare for writing yet another “what is best for the country isn’t the best for your character” scenario, as in the Dwarven succession storyline. And yeah, it’s upsetting that many gamers don’t seem to have the kind of maturity to evaluate Anora on a meta level and give her the credit she deserves, and how that melds with pre-existing misogyny into something very ugly.

    But… I suppose my argument is along the lines of: emotional/rational evaluation doesn’t have to align, and I suppose I’m weirdly peeved by your essay even though I’m 99.9% in agreement! — because you seem to dismiss that.

    I don’t have to adore Anora in order to respect her and acknowledge her as a great character.

    (That said, my favourite ending is where I engineer her marriage to Alistair, have Loghain slay the Archdemon, and the two end up ~saving Ferelden together~. Not least of all because the conversations with Loghain flesh out her character more. And I liked the sort of grudging respect a female PC develops with Anora — both of you know that the air is very, very thin there at the top, and when your goals align, she is makes a great an ally as she does an adversary. Which says a lot about her high-mindedness, really — consummate politician, indeed.)

    1. Oy, this quote between “such as:” and “…not really?” got eaten:

      “This kind of decisiveness is oft cited as a needed political skill. Had it been demonstrated in a man he would doubtless have been praised for it.”

    2. I’ll be up front and say that I feel you’re reading some things into my essay that weren’t there.

      Writing is a fascinating experience in the perpetual limitations of language as refracted through one’s personal limitations, and I always find myself coming up short one way or the other: “I should’ve said this, I should’ve qualified that, I could’ve explained this better.”

      I had an entire paragraph in my head about why it was not unreasonable to be suspicious of Anora, or that it was perfectly legitimate to have some distaste for her methods. It is not my intention to suggest all criticism of her *must* be misogynist in provenance, only that a lot of it tends to be for reasons I already outlined in detail.

      I also try my best to expect as much as possible from my readers. I figure I shouldn’t have to qualify everything I say because a reasonable reader would not attribute certain statements or ideas to me. That’s, as you can imagine, a bit of a dodgy business because my own writing is never infallible or otherwise perfect. My failure to communicate has no bearing on the reader’s reasonableness. All the same, in this article I think that while I did come on strong my primary problem here was combining political critique with what was essentially a fangirl’s loveletter.

      That stream-crossing was what, perhaps, squeezed out necessary analysis that might’ve better assuaged some of your concerns.

      There is also another habit of writing that I’ve gotten myself into and that is recognising that I am part of a chorus, as it were. That means that if I say something, I don’t have to say *everything*– more than likely someone else somewhere will fill in any gaps I left, address issues that I did not speak to, or offer something from a perspective I hadn’t considered. When I write I try to do so with due diligence and deliberation– to hit all the right notes, see things from as many angles as I can perceive, but also to do so with the knowledge that I am not obliged to say everything there is to say on my subject.

      To wit: I did not feel the need to state explicitly: “You do not have to adore Anora in order to respect her” because I felt that was obvious. I think highly of Border House’s audience. I also felt that I should be blunt and unequivocal. Polemical, as you say. For two reasons:

      1) Those who dislike Anora for legitimate and illegitimate reasons are already overrepresented in the discourse and their views are easily found elsewhere. I felt no need to over-incorporate their criticisms. I *did* see a need to fill in the gap of statements defending Anora as a character, however.

      2) As I said in the essay I do have a hard time speaking in declarative sentences. It would’ve been a little self defeating had I scaled back my tone for fear of offending people because it was precisely that impulse that I feel I overindulge in at times.

      So, I hope this explains where I was coming from with the tenor of my essay, which seems to be the primary thing that irritated you. Comments like yours always occasion reflection on my part, so thank you.

      1. Hey, I hear you — I do understand where you’re coming from, and I do understand why you chose that approach. (I’m polemical by nature myself, because I have a hard time being nuanced without undermining my pown position :P) And it’s a good method to engender response, after all.

        As I said, we’re 99% in agreement. But precisely because this is Border House, I’m assuming that the audience here is in general agreement that misogynistic slurs are not on, which is why I don’t believe that acknowledging opinions other than the “HATE/ADORATION <3" dichotomy would have undermined your position.

        So I'm working from this basic assumption rather than *your* premise of "To wit: I did not feel the need to state explicitly: “You do not have to adore Anora in order to respect her” because I felt that was obvious."

        I don't think that's obvious at all. I do feel that many feminist gamers do feel implicitly judged. "Don't adore Awesome Female Character X [for the right reasons]? Enjoyed ridiculously heterosexist game XY? Bad feminist, no cookie!" …A discomfort that Cuppycake laid their finger on quite accurately in the recent "Does liking certain games make us bad feminists?"

        I'm not saying you engage in any kind of underhanded shaming here — haha, no! — but I want to clarify that I read it against that context, and where the defensiveness comes from. Sure, you can dismiss that ("reading some things into my essay that weren’t there.") but I still don't think I was interrogating the text from the wrong perspective ;P

  7. I really liked Anora – she was badass, competent, and sensible. The business with Ser Cauthrien didn’t bother me one bit – Anora was trying to salvage the best out of a bad situation.

    I didn’t trust her, but then again I didn’t expect her to trust me – I was a Grey Warden (and an elf!) appearing out of nowhere with the other potential claimant to the throne. She had no reason to trust me, and she didn’t! I was rather happy. Not so happy that she was willing to off Alistair if she thought she had to, but I wound up marrying them and letting them rule jointly. I figured that she’d be able to handle the governance bits, but Alistair’s conscience would kick in if she was going to be too pragmatic. (Plus Alistair would be favorably disposed towards me, meaning that I’d be able to help the city elves get a better position in Ferelden.)

    If I had let her rule alone, I was worried that she’d try to have Alistair killed to secure her position, and that wouldn’t fly. He is an affable idiot, but he’s my good friend the affable idiot!

    I was really happy with Anora overall, but the pre-battle speech that she gives is not delivered well at all. It’s pretty much the same thing Alistair says, but for some reason, her delivery is NOT well done. :(

  8. I find most of the dialogue surrounding Anora amongst Dragon Age fans unconscionably gross, so I’m really thankful for this article.

    I will preface this with the fact that I put Anora on the throne pretty much every time because as much as I adore him, Alistair is obviously not fit to be king. The only time I didn’t put Anora on the throne was when I was playing my very ambitious female Cousland determined to reclaim everything Loghain and Howe took from her and then some, who “hardened” Alistair and then had zero qualms about putting herself on the throne with him.

    However, I have to admit that I always found myself wishing I liked Anora much more than I ever actually did in the game. My major issue with her was not her ruthlessness or really anything about HER herself, but rather the handling of the character in a meta sense in that she was essentially all tell and no show. As mentioned, she doesn’t actually get to DO anything in the game until the eleventh hour. Before that she’s relegated to rather upsetting passivity (or at least the appearance of same) in one or two brief cutscenes while her father just runs roughshod over her and starts wars with Bann Teagan or what have you. (I’ll note here that I don’t find Loghain interesting AT ALL and definitely feel that the fascination with him and dismissal of Anora comes from a very problematic place.) It always seemed so jarring to me that you spend months and months and months traveling around this broken, warring Ferelden that’s just generally in a bad way and talk to a million NPCs of all stations and sorts and again it’s not until that 11th hour that you really start to hear anything about Anora (and mostly from Eamon), who is then suddenly built up to be this great and amazing and beloved queen who everyone always knew was actually running the show.

    At that point it just feels so strongly as if they realized too late that they needed it to be a legitimate CHOICE as to who to make ruler and given that you’ve spent the entire game with Alistair, they needed to offset that assumed bias by playing up her amazing credentials. Which, I wouldn’t have minded at all! If it actually showed up in-story BEFORE it was time for you to make the choice.

    And the extremely poor handling of that just distanced me from her character so I ended up indifferent to her based on game alone.

    That said, I actually came to appreciate Anora a million times more when I actually did some writing for the character as background for a rather lengthy story I was working on just because it made me have to sit and think on her far more than the game ever actually provoked me to. Which, to be fair, is how I usually end up connecting with underwritten female characters so!

    1. I was always confused how it was supposed to be a choice at all.

      “I like Alistair. Alistair says he doesn’t want to be king. Anora wants to be queen. Everyone says she’s good at it. Why on earth would anyone put Alistair on the throne?”

      … except that playing as a city elf there did turn out to be a downside to letting Anora rule in the epilogue. Really, I’d expect that with a city elf warden hero alive she’d be a bit more cautious about the elves…

      1. I had pretty much this same reaction – putting Anora on the throne seemed like a no-brainer.

        And then I went on the internet and was blown away by the amount of hatred I saw. I did eventually figure out why people were calling her a backstabber, as it hadn’t come up in my playthrough (nor the elf thing, but that never seemed to be the issue). It was extreme, and I think I became fonder of her just as a reaction.

      2. Alistair is unsure of himself. He doesn’t necessarily want to be king, but he also has insecurity as to whether he can be a good king. Anora has political prowess, but has her own flaws. She’s a bit arrogant as well.

        There are definitely valid reasons to put Alistair on the throne. His attitude and humility, his ability to relate to the common folk. Loghain was also not high born, but Anora was raised reaping the benefits of her father’s elevation in a privileged life. Alistair is also extremely compassionate. That’s a quality Anora, as a pragmatic character, isn’t as given toward. He’s also competent and he studies governance, and his confidence grows.

        It’s not that he’s unfit to rule, but he is unsure. However, by accounts he does a good job.

        1. Yeah, I’m kidding slightly. There are certainly reasons that he makes a good king. But as my character was very close to him at the time, agreeing with his wishes seemed logical.

          Also, both I and my city elf disapprove of the idea of making someone leader of a country just because of who eir father was. For my elfy roleplay that’s right up there with racism. Blood isn’t destiny. Real-world hereditary rulers at least get the benefit of being raised and trained for the position; Alistair might as well have been Just Some Guy.

          Aaaaanyway. I was surprised by the level of Anora-hate out there once I found it. She’s far from perfect, but who in Dragon Age is perfect?

          1. Yes, for me I said “assumed bias” because I think a lot of people would feel that Anora was the better choice logically, feel as you (and I!) do about his only claim being hereditary not being a convincing argument, OR with Alistair, do what HE wants because he asserts over and over that he doesn’t want to be king. But there are also going to be many people who just go, “I don’t know/like Anora so I’ll make my buddy/boyfriend king instead.”

            The reason I actually REALLY like making “hardened” Alistair king (in the situation I previously mentioned) is because he has some rather fantastic things to say during the Landsmeet if you ask him who to choose at that point. He stops being unsure then and it’s great to see and, as mentioned, that’s the version that will get you epilogues about him studying governance and becoming a good king.

    2. You have a really good point here about how Anora is handled entirely in terms of “telling” instead of “showing”. (Also, I agree about Loghain and Maric, but that is beside the point.) I remember that it irked me quite a bit to see Loghain ripping all power away from a woman who didn’t even try to get a word in edgewise — or do anything whatsoever.

      Maybe they could/should have added a few more cutscenes and other ways of showing how Anora, ticked off with her father’s coup to begin with, learns the truth of his betrayal at Ostagar and the truth of the threat of the Blight — and then tries to do something about it behind his and Howe’s back, including contacting the Wardens, which in turn leads to her imprisonment. Something, anything, to actually make the “telling” tangible and thus credible, and players more inclined to be sympathetic towards her.

      1. Yes. I completely agree that something like what you’ve described would have worked wonders. It would have given her more agency earlier in the game and actually organically introduced the character through her virtues/strengths.

        I also would have just really really liked for people to actually DISCUSS HER in the million conversations you have about Ferelden and the state of Ferelden in the first like 85% of the game. As it was, the first time I got to the Landsmeet/Denerim segment of the game and Eamon started talking about Anora the adept and beloved queen, I went, “Then why have I never heard ANYONE IN ALL OF FERELDEN mention her in her own right before when we’re literally in the middle of a CIVIL WAR?!”

        The only reference to Anora in dialogue/conversations I could recall was her being mentioned as Loghain’s daughter who’s married to Cailin and thus the (tenuous) connection he had to the throne.

    3. I agree. Anora really was put up as a makeshift alternative to Alistair, and an inferior one at that from a player gratification perspective. I also find her character to be inconsistent in her handling of the plot itself – if she was so ambitious and so deidicated to he people, why sit back and let her father take all power away? Coming to think of it, the only way she would have been a proper alternative was if she’d been cast out by Loghain for rebelling and ended up in the party, but the writers obviously didn’t think that far ahead.

  9. It’s funny, because I had been planning to submit an article very soon to The Border House on this exact same topic with many of the same points! But, that’s just fine, because I too felt that Anora was a strong character and a very interesting woman whose story deserved to be told and highlighted, as well as the attitudes toward her in Ferelden. I suppose I will still write my take for my own blog, and I’m glad to read it here.

    I did make Alistair King, but there were story and personal reasons behind that that were not against Anora, whom I did not trust despite her political talent. The betrayal was a difficult situation, but we had rescued her and she could’ve told the truth. That is good politics, but bad when you want my influence to rule the country. Alistair, however, I believed in, my character loved (and later married), and being a Grey Warden, I felt was he more capable of handling the Blight and being completely trustworthy. But the character of Anora has stayed with me.

  10. During my first play through the game, I was a human noble woman and put myself on the throne with Alistair as king. I didn’t take Morrigan up on her offer and he died fighting the archdemon which for some reason made Anora queen instead of my character. Then she proceeded to erect a statue to her father which pretty much completely turned me against her. The fact that she builds a statue for Loghain after what he did to the country, its people, and her made me give up on her character as being pretty worthless. I never considered trying to put her on the throne after that. It sounds like if my initial choices had been different, I might have liked her character better.

  11. Overall, that’s a great article, but I do feel I have to raise an issue with one part.

    “I think more than a few married hetero women can empathise with this particular state of affairs.”

    Combined with the preceding paragraph, the somewhat “Nudge, nudge, wink wink. Know what I mean, girls?” tone seems counter to everything that this blog is about.

    1. Quinnae is (humorously, lightheartedly) referring to how, in patriarchy, women who are married to men are expected to take care of all domestic tasks while the man is the “breadwinner.” So… I’m not sure what your issue with that sentence is.

  12. Excellent article and it looks like Anora is a really well-written and rounded character.

    Tough I don’t care much for fantasy RPGs you make me more and more interested in this one. I may buy it for the characters.

  13. Great read!

    I also didn’t much trust Anora on my first play-through, especially after she apparently turned me in, nor did I buy her excuses after the fact. From the very beginning Alistair said he was not a leader. “Bad things happen when I lead,” is one of the first things he says once you arrive in Lothering. Beyond that, he’s most content as a Grey Warden. He’s proud to be in that role, it’s where he feels he does the most good, and by the end of the game Ferelden needs all the Wardens it can get. Add in the fact that his taint shortens his lifespan and makes him unable to bear children only adds to the “Do Not Make King” column. When he dies, there’d be another struggle for power. He was protesting and dragging his feet the whole time. I was romancing him and pictured he and my character together and Grey Wardens forever, so I didn’t make him King. How could I do that to him??

    And while I did not like or trust Anora at the beginning, her arguments in favor of her being queen won me over. Arl Eamon didn’t care for her either, and while he backed Alistair for King, even he had to admit the woman had a nose for politics and had experience running the kingdom. She is a very complex, interesting character, and I’m glad I put her on the throne.

  14. The only regret I have about putting Anora on the throne is that it made Allistair end up a hobo.

  15. I don’t really know how to feel about her. As you mentioned, her introduction is sort of rushed at the end as “oh hai btw there is this queen person you should meet”, and I think part of what fuels the the hatred (aside from the obvious and terrible misogyny) is that she’s never really fully fleshed out as a character. You don’t really get her side of the story that much, and given her betrayal (even if it is justified) and her unwavering devotion to her father – who is more or less responsible for this whole godawful mess – it was hard for me to like her, and I’m sure that was the case for others. But then this whole politics-and-confronting-Loghain subplot didn’t really interest me that much, because of A) the character development issue mentioned above, and B) the fact that I finished the game without really getting a half-decent reason for WHY Loghain decided to go through with his whole betrayal and blame you and the Grey Wardens for Cailan’s death. I mean, there was some stuff with wanting to protect Ferelden and whatnot, but then he teamed up with Earl Howe, who is an unequivocally horrible person. I feel like the justifications were scattered around in game, but weren’t really well connected to one another, leaving the whole situation feeling a little disjointed. Maybe I missed an important conversation somewhere *shrug*

    As for Bastila in KOTOR… while the misogyny leveled against her is just as disappointing and obnoxious, I think she and Anora express self-confidence in completely different ways. Anora never bites off more than she can chew: what she claims she can do is based off the fact that she has already done it, and done it well. OTOH, Bastila assumes that just because she mastered Battle Meditation quickly means she’s qualified for other sorts of things she doesn’t have a lot of lot of experience with. She goes beyond self-confident, to arrogant and prideful (which I think is supposed to be the point, in that it plays a role in her eventual turn to the dark side). Even Carth (rightly) points out the fact that her powers don’t necessarily make her a good leader, right after the swoop race on Taris.

  16. For all the talk of the community though, I think that her treatment within the game is the most troubling. Even though reactions like this are to be expected, they are very much fueled by how the narrative is angled at Anora. Consider, as always, the medium she is put in and the traits she is given. The warden has to make their deicsion knowing very little of Anora, and what they know of her is that she is constantly telling half truths and that she seems to switch sides – not something that makes you trustworthy for most people, and in none of my playthroughs did i trust her with the throne, if only because I wasn’t prepared to let go of Alistair.

    This is very manipulative writing. One the one hand we have a regent that we are told from the get go has everything needed for the job, but whose motivations and intentions are very unclear at the ciritcal moment. On the other hand we have the man who we know inside out, including his intentions and motivations, but on the other hand even he ackowledges that he’s in over his head. So, from a roleplay standpoint you can’t trust the queen and from a strategic standpoint you don’t know Anora and you won’t get half as much satisfaction out of her cutscenes because ot it. Then we have the fact that Alistair get the Aragorn treatment. Start to finish he is the “rightful heir” and we never get a counterpoint to that as we do in the dwarven politics. To seal the deal, trailers and default settings for the games from the Origins on show Alistair as king. Events are negitiable, yes but just as the official storyline always includes a male protagonist, it always includes a king. The fans only react as they are expected to.

    1. It could have been called manipulative if there were only these two characters Alistair and Anora but there are also Cailen and Loghain so i keep calling it very clever and inovative writing: it raises question : what’s better legitimacy or competency but doesn’t provide clear answer, has to be answered for oneself.

      1. I don’t really follow you here. Cailan and Loghain aren’t part of the regent dilemma, and they both have very clear roles as the villain and the naive wannabe legend respectively. None of them affects what candidate that the game wants you to take. And I don’t think that blood vs. competence is the issue here, it’s just that Alistair is that hero of the story. The alternatives here are to either let him rise to glory, after which he makes several appearances to assert what an innovative and inspiring king he is, or he is killed or turned alcoholic and the throne is left to a regent who is forgotten by the next game. I think it’s pretty clear which path the writers want us to take.

  17. There is, of course, secret option C, which is convince Anora and Alistair to marry (sorry if someone mentioned this already, there’s a lot of comments and it might be hidden somewhere) This means that the people get their bloodline legitimacy, as well as all-around stand-up guy Alistair as king (well, prince, technically… as Anora wastes no time pointing out), but also they have competent political leadership in the form of throne-room veteran Anora.

    Added bonus, you get to see Alistair awkwardly trying to hold Anora’s hand at their coronation, and her sternly brushing him off, then him looking totally unsure and intimidated. Brilliant.

    The other point is the difficulty of things like “bloodlines” in fantasy settings. Sure in the real world the divine right of kings is just a useful lie, but in Fereldan who knows? Maybe there is something to that royal blood. Considering how many snowstorms I summoned, and demons I exorcised, I would be hard-pressed to dismiss anything as impossible within the logic of the game.

    1. Actually on the bloodlines subject…

      In TES IV: Oblivion (spoilers), that is pretty much how the adventure starts out. Assassins try to eliminate the emperor and his three heirs, and it turns out that their bloodline is crucial for using a special amulet to protect the barrier that separates Tamriel from the demonic plane known as Oblivion. That barrier falls, and you have to go find the hidden heir so he can use the amulet to restore the barrier.

      1. Yeah, stuff like this is really frustrating, because it means that within the game logic, some people are just more important than others- pre-destined for better things, better at whatever it is they do. Which shits all over concepts like Democracy, because the Heir of Tamriel was not created equal. S/he gets to be the decider, s/he has the weight of the world on her/his shoulders. And any attempt to give power to the people would mean going against the will of fate and Gods and what have you.

        1. Yeah… it can definitely be annoying at times, but I guess it sort of comes with the territory. I would assume most people who like these sorts of “Ye Olde” fantasy video games prefer to be “The One”, going off to save the world, rather than just another grunt doing something incredibly mundane. This is sort of true even in more non-fictional settings (think “Ramirez Do Everything!”).

  18. Have you done the playthrough where you try to parlay with her, and decide not to support her bid for the throne and she utterly and completely betrays you and you find out that it was her intention to betray you the ENTIRE TIME?

    There are is a whole slew of disgustingly sexist and awful arguments against Anora out there that make me cringe, and there are many reasons why she should, as a powerful woman, be concerned about keeping her rule. As “progressive” as Ferelden is, it is still a horribly sexist society and women are not completely as equal as a person would like to believe. This is obvious when you play a m!Cousland and she has to insist that you maintain the title of Prince Consort and not grab for power over her. It is a legitimate concern.

    But if you don’t support her as queen or agree to marry her to Alistair, she completely throws you to the wolves. You find out she knew about every traitorous thing her father was trying to do. You find out that she went to Howe voluntarily to test your intentions as a Warden and to see where your loyalties were. You find out that she meant for you and Alistair to wind up in Drakon if you didn’t flock to her side. She was in fact conniving, and it is only if you don’t play her game the way you want it (or, if like me, you forget to do one small bit of her conversation just one time) that you find all of this out.

    She is fantastically written, and the game doesn’t reveal all of her cards unless you do all of the ending options.

Comments are closed.