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Welcome! This blog is devoted to considerations of morality in the The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim by Bethesda. Rather than a fansite, review, or walkthrough, it is a serious attempt to examine the game through a moral lens. Please note that the purpose of this blog is to discuss morality within the context of the game, not to determine whether playing the game is immoral in and of itself; the latter type of "discussion" tends toward tedium and inhibits, rather than promotes, a meaningful conversation.

If you have not visited this blog before, it might be helpful to read the posts labeled "Orientation," most of which are the first few entries in the blog archive (see right). These posts include a short introduction to this project, a content-specific author bio, and a few other pieces that explain key concepts relevant to this study. These posts are of particular use to those readers less familiar with Skyrim (or video games in general).


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Saturday, November 10, 2012

Civil War Epilogue: Season Unending

One of the things that bothered me about the Civil War quest was the absence of a peaceful solution to the conflict.  While I am well aware that Skyrim is a combat-oriented game, Bethesda does provide non-violent solutions to several other quests, so I was hoping for a non-partisan option for resolving the rebellion.  Obviously, as I outlined in my previous post, that option did not exist in my playthrough.

During my post-quest research, however, I discovered that the two parties can be brought to the negotiating table in a quest called Season Unending, which is part of the Main quest line.  Because I had decided it would be wiser to settle the civil war before attempting to deal with the dragon crisis, I had not advanced far enough along the Main questline to open Season Unending.  Initially, I was disappointed that I had missed out on an opportunity to bring a peaceful end to the rebellion, but upon further reading, I realized that the truce afforded by Season Unending is, at best, temporary and at worst, completely illusory. 

Jarl Balgruuf the Greater insists on a Greybeard-hosted and Dragonborn-mediated end to the hostilities before he will allow his castle (Dragonreach) to be used as an instrument to defeat Alduin.  His logic is that, because Whiterun is both geographically and politically betwixt the Stormcloaks and the Legion, a risky adventure such as the one proposed by the Dragonborn could be seen as a opportunity by one of the sides to gain advantage by taking Whiterun while its Jarl is distracted. General Tullius and Jarl Ulfric Stormcloak sit down at the table and agree to the terms of the truce negotiated by the Dragonborn.  Regardless of the specifics of the negotiation (and the combinations of possible interactions and outcomes is one of the most complex in the whole game), the quest ends successfully when everyone leaves the conference with a hard-won cease-fire.

The negotiation table.
The problem is that, as soon as Season Unending is complete, the player can pick up the Civil War questline wherever he or she left off.  In other words, both sides are willing to violate the terms of the truce to which they just agreed hours ago (in game time).  If Bethesda really meant for the truce to last, the Civil War questline would have been complete (or perhaps failed) at the end of Season Unending. Furthermore, I learned that completing the Civil War quest for either side renders Season Unending not only unavailable, but automatically completed when the player reaches that stage of the Main quest.  I am therefore left to conclude that the civil war was never meant to end peacefully.

From a moral role-playing perspective, the question of who to blame for the truce violation is vital.  While this issue depends somewhat on the stage of the Civil War questline at which the player completes Season Unending, most scenarios suggest that the Stormcloaks are the aggressors.  First, the Empire has nothing to gain by violating the cease-fire.  The Legion is fighting a defensive battle against secessionists within an Imperial Province; if the rebellion stops fighting, then the Legion has no more reason to expend its already stretched forces to "punish" the rebels.  Second, the Empire's major flaw is its adherence to the law, even when the law is unjust (such as the White-Gold Concordat), while the Stormcloaks have little interest in sticking to agreements that violate their ideology; if someone is going to break the treaty, its probably going to be the party that formed around the breaking of another treaty.  Third, and most importantly, nearly every stage of the Civil War questline, regardless of the side chosen by the player, starts with an aggressive act by the Stormcloaks (finding the Jagged Crown in order to legitimize Ulfric's bid to replace Torygg as High King, taking a fort that legally belongs to the Empire, etc.).  In fact, Ulfric's willingness to agree to the terms of the truce forged at High Hrothgar seems, in retrospect, to be a complete sham.  As an ideologue, Ulfric has little to gain by holding to the terms of an agreement that is only slightly more palatable than the Concordat itself.

In my second playthough, I will be sure to complete Season Unending; the number of variables is impressive, and it is a rare moment of NPC communication in a combat-based game.  Still, I wish that Bethesda had scripted a peaceful outcome to the civil war.  While the player can certainly choose to not complete the Civil War quests, the hostilities do not resolve until the player, in effect, chooses a winner by fighting for either the Stormcloaks or the Legion.  As it is currently written, Skyrim does not offer peace as a viable option.


  1. I've always considered "Season Unending" to be one of the greatest missed opportunities by the developers in the entire game. At the moment this quest starts, the Dragonborn is in possession of valuable intelligence that could conceivably change the entire direction of the civil war, to wit: The Thalmor have been playing both sides of the conflict with the sole purpose of weakening the empire. The dossiers you recover during "Diplomatic Immunity" prove this. Instead of merely kicking the Thalmor Ambassador out of the negotiations to satisfy the Stormcloaks, how much more satisfying would it have been to bring out the dossiers, and use them to persuade both sides that a lasting peace and alliance would be much more in their interests. Oh and that it wouldn't be any effort at all to arrange an "Accident" for the Thalmor Ambassador on the way down the mountain. I mean, the way is long, the steps are steep, and there is all manner of unpleasant wildlife. Is this morally right? Remember that any number of documents and tomes point to the fact that the Thalmor are trying to destroy this world in an attempt to return to what they see as home. Assassination in the name of world security would certainly satisfy my Dovhakin's sense of morals.

    1. I certainly agree with your moral reasoning; killing Thalmor is always justified. While I don't think that anyone at the table would be surprised to see the dossiers, actually having the physical proof might be enough to spur the Empire to abandon the Concordat. I would just hope that the Imperial Legion would have had enough time to regroup before dropping this bombshell.

  2. If you pick a side in Civil War after finishing the main quest (which would also mean going through Season Unending), neither side would recognize you as the Dragonborn when you join in, you only have the option to tell them that you were at Helgen to be executed. Very annoying omission by Bethesda.

  3. Agreed. It's funny how the DLC's show a little more attention to the PC's past accomplishments. Take, for example, the way Miraak's initial comments to you change depending on where you are in the main quest. It's as though Bethesda realized this weakness too late for the main game, but in time for Dragonborn.

  4. The truce in Season Unending is never violated. The agreed truce is only supposed to last until the dragons are dealt with, after which the war would resume.

    Honestly, a peaceful resolution makes no sense. While one could claim that Thalmor is the real enemy, it's too late for that: the moment the Stormcloacks rebelled, the war was sworn to end with one side destroyed. Ulfric is a smart man, not an idiot, he knew that there was always the option to eat his pride and stand with the Empire, at least until the Thalmor was dead. But he decided that it was out of the question. And he decided on this while he was much weaker than ever in Season Unending.

    Unlike regular wars, Civil Wars don't have a tendency to end nicely. Which is natural, they don't happen unless the rebels decided that cooperation is out of question.