As I ran from the dragon's attack on Helgen, I was assisted by two NPCs: Ralof, one of the Stormcloaks who was to be executed along with me, and Hadvar, the Nord Imperial who asked me my name earlier. Ralof helped me escape the courtyard immediately after the dragon attacked, and after we got separated, Hadvar ran into me and told me to follow him to (relative) safety. Hadvar and I then ran into Ralof and a couple of Stormcloaks, at which point the two adversarial NPCs argued briefly about which one of them I should follow to safety.
|Hadvar has his priorities straight; Ralof does not.|
Hadvar led me into Helgen Keep and allowed me to raid the armory for Imperial weapons, armor, and supplies -- again, placing my safety above the current political conflict. When we encountered a group of Stormcloaks hiding in the keep, he offered them mercy in light of the immediate crisis, which they violently refused, so we fought with them and killed them. As we continued along the escape route, he continued to "show me the ropes," and when we finally made it out of Helgen, he offered to put me up at his Uncle Alvor's house in Riverwood. After this first adventure, I was definitely predisposed to favoring them Empire, if this is the kind of man they produce.
The reality, of course, is that most of these events would have unfolded in Ralof's company as well, since Unbound is a tutorial quest; Ralof would have helped me just as much, the Imperial soldiers would probably not have offered mercy (so that I could practice my combat skills), and I would have stayed with Ralof's relatives in Riverwood. The difference is that these actions mean more coming from Hadvar; he could have faced serious consequences for helping me escape (although, to be fair, Hadvar's commanding officer, General Tulius, yelled, "Run, you idiot!" to me during my escape), whereas Ralof was already a dead man with nothing to lose by helping me.
The Hadvar/Ralof choice, however, was not the most morally interesting conflict. During our escape from Helgen Keep, we ran through a torture chamber, occupied by the Imperial Torturer and his assistant. The presence of these elements on the side I had chosen really disturbed me; to his credit, Hadvar seemed to dislike the torturer as well. Still, Hadvar tried to get both the torturer and his assistant to follow us to safety, but the old man refused to believe that a dragon had attacked, prefering to remain with his "work." After Hadvar and the assistant left the room, I was alone with the torturer. I don't think the game designers intended this moment to be the first real moral conflict in the game because there are no quest markers or in-game messages about it, but I could not bear to let the torturer live, even if killing him would constitute murder.
|Letting this guy live would have been a mistake.|
In completing the first quest, I had already displayed some fascinating and conflicting behavior. I decided whom to follow based on issues of honor and mercy, but soon found myself assassinating an Imperial officer I had deemed too twisted to live. After leaving Helgen and making my way to Riverwood, my moral profile would become even more complicated.