Please read this first.

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).


If you have visited this blog before, thanks and welcome back!

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Marriage and Family Life in Skyrim

While I touched on the issue of marriage in one of my earliest posts, I didn’t think that a character like Lothar would get married until things in Skyrim had settled down a bit.  It didn’t make sense to get married and have children while a civil war raged and an apocalyptic dragon was flying about unchecked.  Furthermore, I wanted him to have something to offer a potential mate in terms of position within in the Province itself.  My goal was to win the Civil War for the Empire, defeat Alduin, become Thane of each Hold, and achieve leadership positions in all available factions (excepting the Dark Brotherhood) before proposing marriage.  That does not mean, however, that I wasn’t thinking about potential mates for most of this playthrough.

First and foremost was the matter of sexual orientation.  Aside from whatever goes on in the role player’s mind, the only chance for a PC to engage romantically with an NPC is marriage.  This union is permanent and unrepeatable (without mods) – no divorce, no remarriage if the spouse dies.  Therefore, with only one opportunity for a mate, the PC must be either heterosexual or homosexual.  I decided early on that Lothar would be heterosexual for two key reasons: 
  •  Although homosexuality is available to the player, heterosexuality is by far the norm among the citizen of Skyrim.  I can think of only one gay pairing in the game, and that one is mostly “off-screen.” Lothar is meant to be a typical Nord Legionnaire, so he would most likely be straight. 
  •  Lothar is also meant to project my own personal presence in the game, and since I have a wife, so should he.
The second issue was the question of marrying a follower.  While followers are often fascinating characters who display remarkable loyalty in the face of danger, they run the risk of dying during an adventure.  It is true that there are measures I could take to minimize that risk, but given my self-imposed rules regarding play-overs, I decided that it would make more sense for Lothar to marry a non-adventurer.  Furthermore, marrying a "citizen" grants a kind of balance to the family unit: one parent goes out to save the world, the other stays home to maintain the household.  It seems unfair to ask an adventurer like J'zargo or a warrior like Jenassa to stay home with the kids.  Certainly, a steward or housecarl could act as a nanny while mom and dad are out hunting dragons, but given Lothar's background, I didn't think that would sit well.

During my adventures in Skyrim, I found three women whom I thought Lothar might love as a wife:
  • Uthgerd the Unbroken: Uthgerd is, hands-down, one of my favorite characters.  She's tough and funny and never lets me get away with anything.  She's a valuable partner on the battlefield -- which, given my aforementioned reluctance to marry a follower, is the biggest problem.  I decided that Lothar would rather induct Uthgerd into the Blades, where she could continue her career in a band of warriors (something she had seemingly given up on after she was kicked out of the Companions).
  • Brelyna Maryon: Unsure of herself and eager to please, Brelyna is a kind of counterpoint to Uthgerd's bold overconfidence.  As I mentioned in an earlier post, she proved herself in battle while never losing her unassuming cuteness.  However, as with Uthgerd, I didn't feel right taking her out of both the College and the life of adventure to which I had introduced her, so I inducted her into the Blades as well.
  • Ysolda: Ysolda was an early favorite and ultimately the woman I chose for Lothar.  Ysolda was one of the first people I met in Whiterun, and I was immediately impressed by how she balanced ambition with compassion, Nord pride with racial tolerance.  She wants to take over The Bannered Mare from Hulda, but is willing to wait and perfect her skills as a merchant in the meantime.  She laments the prejudice against the Khajiit, seeing them as valuable and reliable trading partners.  She tolerates no crime, but has no problem dealing in Sleeping Tree Sap, which is not illegal, but probably should be.  During A Night to Remember, she treated me with generosity and humor, but didn't let me entirely off the hook.  Hers was also one of the first "fetch quests" I did, and it actually turned out to be a lot of fun: hunting mammoths on the plains of Whiterun at night with Lydia was a blast.  My only concern was her apparent crush on the bard Mikael, but come on...the author of the "Gentleman's Guide" had no shot against the Dragonborn.
Even after meeting many other marriageable woman in Skryim, I came back for Ysolda; she just seemed like a perfect fit for this particular Dovahkiin.  She and Lothar got married and settled in at Breezehome.  Ysolda opened up her home-based business, and she kept things humming while I was out adventuring.

After a while (and after I installed Hearthfire), I decided that it was time to adopt.  Actually, I was exceptionally pleased when the adoption feature was announced.  Prior to the release of Hearthfire, there was an incident that really weighed heavily on me.  During a routine visit to Riverwood to pick up smithing supplies, the town was attacked by a dragon.  I was in "mage mode" at the time (I think I was on a College quest), and so I wasn't carrying my accustomed arsenal.  It therefore took me a lot longer to defeat the beast than usual, and a few of the townspeople died in the battle.  Among the dead were the people who took me in when I escaped Helgen: Alvor and Sigrid.  Their daughter, Dorthe, was now an orphan because I was unable to act fast enough to save her parents.  While the people of Riverwood are very nice, and Dorthe's cousin Hadvar is still around to care for her, I felt a special obligation to her -- especially given Lothar's own backstory.  Until Hearthfire, there was little I could do for her.  As soon as I got the letter from Honorhall saying that I could adopt (Grelod was already dead by this time -- I'll explain in the next post), I rushed over and was both relieved and overjoyed to see that Constance Michel had taken Dorthe in.  I immediately adopted her and felt a great weight lifted from my shoulders.

While I certainly understand Bethesda's two-child limit on adoption, part of me wishes that I could work around that restriction (without mods -- I'm on an Xbox).  The decision about my second adoption was as difficult as the first one was easy.  I felt like a jerk only taking one child from Honorhall, but consoled myself with the knowledge that they would be in good hands with Constance.  Furthermore, since I ran the Guild now, I could divert all sorts of resources to them whenever I wanted.  I therefore decided to adopt the first street urchin I had encountered -- Sofie from Windhelm.  When I first met Sofie, I was not in a position to adopt, so I bought all of her flowers, gave her a valuable gemstone, and made a private vow to come back for her as soon as I could.  Aside from being a near-Dickensian orphan (standing out in the cold, selling flowers to passersby), she was the child of a Stormcloak soldier who was killed in the Civil War.  I was therefore at least indirectly responsible for her present state.  While all of the adoptable kids are great choices, Sofie was a natural for my second child.

Now that Lothar was married and had two children, I felt it was time to build a customized house.  I took Jarl Siddgeir up on his offer to buy Lakeview Manor and started building.  My main concern was to provide a suitable, long-term home for Ysolda and the girls, which is why I chose to build so close to the Cyrodiil border.  If I do eventually become Emperor, as the game seems to be hinting, I'd like home to be close to the "office."  Furthermore, the location close to the border and near enough to the town of Falkreath will provide ample opportunity for Ysolda's burgeoning career as a trader (if Hulda dies, we can always relocate back to Breezehome; Whiterun's not that far away).  The house itself was a more complex project.  Because Dorthe had always pestered Alvor and Sigrid about becoming a blacksmith, I built an armory in the east wing and a second forge in the basement.  Because Sofie had an interest in flowers (as evidenced by her former "career" and her comments about the Gildergreen while we lived in Whiterun), I built an alchemy tower in the north wing and a garden outside.  I placed the family bedroom suite in the west wing so that our servants could sleep in the main hall, then added an enchanting table for my own use upstairs.

As for the servants themselves, I really only had one position to fill: steward.  My housecarl, Rayya, was assigned my the Jarl, and the bard and carriage driver were to be hired by the steward, whom I had to choose for myself.  I decided that my best option would be Adelaisa Vendicci:
  • She worked for the East Empire Company, so she'd probably be an excellent steward, as well as a valuable mentor and resource for Ysolda.
  • She wears Imperial armor, which indicates some experience with the Legion.  I want to have some Imperial representation on my staff.
  • She demonstrated combat skills during Rise in the East, so I would feel comfortable leaving the family home with her and Rayya as protection. 
So far, this arrangement has worked out really well. Ysolda and the kids like living in the woods of Falkreath, and Rayya and Adelaisa have been able to help me handle the occasional bandit raid or rampaging giant.  At first, I was a little apprehensive about leaving everyone at home while I was out on long quests, but we have established a good set of rules and routines:
  • When I come back from a quest, I stay at least one day at home before going off on a new quest.
  • I sleep in my bed with Ysolda even though, as a werewolf, I get no Well Rested or Lover's Comfort bonus.
  • When Dorthe or Sofie ask for an allowance, I give them the middle amount: I can afford more, but I don't want them getting spoiled.
  • When Dorthe or Sophie ask me to play a game, I play -- no matter what.
  • I always come home with a gift for the girls, just in case they ask.  While I have given dolls, dresses, and sweets to both girls, I also often give weapons to Dorthe and books to Sofie...but sometimes I switch -- don't want to pigeonhole them.
  • Sometimes I tell them to do chores.  If they protest, I insist.
  • So far, only Sofie has ask about pets.  I let her keep the fox she found.  The damn thing growls at me all the time.
While at first blush, Hearthfire seems a bit outside of the purview of this blog, my decisions regarding marriage and family depend a great deal on the moral profile of my avatar.  Lothar chose a woman who rejects the racism of her fellow Nords without losing her ethnic identity and who manages to balance ambition and compassion.  He adopted his kids based on moral obligations, real or perceived.  He set up a house responsibly and with an eye toward his family's needs.  There are no great moral dilemmas here, but Hearthfire does provide opportunity for moral agency on the home front.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

The Main Quest: Finale

Special thanks to Kurt Kuhlmann for pointing out some factual errors in an earlier version of this post!

After Paarthurnax, the Main Quest provides very few opportunities for moral agency.  Capturing Odahviing, travelling to Skuldafn, visiting Sovngarde, and defeating Alduin are all dramatic and engaging quests, but they present no significant moral quandaries.  There are, however, some events that bear further examination.

The latter part of the Main Quest reveals that not all of the dragons share Alduin's views. During The Fallen, I learned the shout that summons Odahviing, thus providing me another opportunity to converse with a dragon.  Odahviing is an active ally of Alduin, but when we captured him, he agreed to help me track down the World-Eater in exchange for his own freedom.  Because of his dialogue, Odahviing comes off as an opportunist who betrays Alduin not on principle, but on the likelihood that the Dovahkiin will defeat him:

Once Alduin is defeated, Odahviing pledges to aid the Dragonborn whenever he calls; he is not, however, another Paarthurnax, who promises to teach the pacifist Way of the Voice to all of the dragons he can convince.

He might actually succeed, as Paarthurnax and Odahviing are not the only non-hostile dragons in the game.  Until Skuldafn, I had never encountered a non-NPC dragon that did not attack the moment it detected me (or anyone else for that matter).  At Skuldafn, however, I ran into a dragon who, despite being perched directly above the portal to Sovngarde and witnessing my defeat of his comrades, did not attack.  He watched me closely, but made no aggressive moves at all.  Given my experience with Paarthurnax and Odahviing, I decided to hold back, and it began to dawn on me that all of the dragons (not just the named ones) might be morally complex creatures who are as apt to choose "the high road" as their mortal counterparts.  Perhaps this moral range explains why, at the Throat of the World, dragons can be seen celebrating the World-Eater's fall. 

As it turns out, the complicated moral tableau presented at the portal to Sovngarde was reflected on the other side as well.  While the scenes inside the Hall of Valor are interesting from a cultural perspective (of course Nords brawl in Heaven!), the encounters before I met Tsun were the most enlightening:

  • Kodlak: It was satisfying to see Kodlak in his beloved Sovngarde.  Even though he had assured me that the purification was successful, I was happy to see the results for myself.

  • Torygg: The High King's dialogue suggests that the popular story that Ulfric "shouted him to pieces" is closer to the truth than Ulfric's account, but I'm not sure if this is an important distinction.

  • Ulfric: This was by far the most substantial encounter in Sovngarde.  First, it appears that Ulfric's ascent to the Nord Paradise has erased any animosity he might harbor for the man who killed him in battle.  Second, Ulfric expresses a profound and sincere regret for his part in Skyrim's strife.  He stops short of saying that he was wrong, but his sadness is undeniable.  I suspect that, if he had the opportunity to  do it all again, he would probably try harder to convince Torygg of the need for secession, rather than kill him.  This conversation confirmed both my decision to support the Empire and my respect for Jarl Ulfric.

As for the final battle with Alduin, there is little of moral significance to examine, with the possible exception of the emphasis on unified effort.  In order to defeat the World-Eater, I had to join forces with the heroes of old -- perhaps an object lesson on the necessity of community.  Now that I think about it, that may be the best moral for a war-torn Skyrim after all.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Paarthurnax: Further Considerations

The conflict at the core of the Dovahkiin's rise to power is analogous to that faced by Raskolnikov in Dostoyevsky's Crime and Punishment.   Raskolnikov considers himself to be an extraordinary man -- the creator of a "New Word" -- and therefore above the laws of ordinary men.  He finds himself torn between two models of this "extraordinary man": the Nietschzean Übermensch, who subjugates those beneath him by virtue of his greater power, and the Hegelian superman, who transcends the law in order to perform great and noble deeds.  Raskolnikov considers his murder of the evil pawnbroker as evidence of his superior nature; he breaks the law in order to rid the world of a great evil.  Once he does so, however, he finds himself becoming more Nietschzean, seeking power over others for its own sake.

While Raskolnikov only thinks of himself as extraordinary, the Dovahkiin is emperically superior to those around him, capable of supernatural feats beyond those of the most powerful NPCs and creatures in the game.  During the course of the game, the Dovahkiin can defeat Alduin the World-Eater, challenge the Daedra, decide the outcome of the Civil War, and simultaneously become the leader of the Companions, the Thieves' Guild, the Dark Brotherhood, and the College of Winterhold.  Furthermore, the Dovahkiin literally possesses a "new word" -- or, more accurately, several ancient words -- that denotes a unique role in Tamriel's history. The question is not whether the Dovahkiin is extraordinary; the question is whether he or she will take the Nietschzean or the Hegelian route.  Obviously, the player as moral agent ultimately decides which kind of superman the Dovahkiin will become, but the game provides several prominent models of the Nietschzean Übermensch against which the player can be defined.

The central Nietschzean character in the game is, as I mentioned in the previous post, Alduin.  The World-Eater seeks power over mortals and dragons alike, not for the benefit of his kind or the glory of some divine being, but for his own sake.  He conquers because it is his nature to do so.  He does not bother to justify his actions to anyone, because to do so would suggest that someone else has authority over him.  He enslaves or destroys the weak and commands the strong.  He is the lust for power personified.

Paarthurnax provides a useful Hegelian counterpoint to Alduin.  Here we have a being who, like his erstwhile ally, instinctively seeks to conquer, yet consciously chooses otherwise.  In helping the Tongues and the Greybeards, he betrays his own kind and violates his own innate nature to serve a noble cause: the Way of the Voice.  He creates a new law to supplant the Nietschzean rule of Alduin.

Paarthurnax, however, is not alone.  Brynjolf, Kodlak, Argenir, and even Ulfric Stormcloak demonstrate the power of "honorable transgression."  Each of these characters violates some law or taboo or tradition in order to serve, at least in their estimation, a greater good.  While one could argue against the particular motivation in each case (Jarl Ulfric's cause being the most obvious example), these characters are all motivated by something greater than and outside of their own individual selves.

What is noteworthy here is that each of the more Hegelian characters is presented as decidedly more heroic (or at least respectable) than their Nietschzean counterparts.  Paarthurnax's dialogue is eloquent and thought-provoking, while Alduin's is full of self-aggrandizement and menace.  Consider the conflict between Mercer and Brynjolf; the former amasses power and wealth for himself alone, while Brynjolf and Karliah seek to revitalize the Guild and to serve Nocturnal.  Dawnguard presents another example in the persons of Isran and Lord Harkon.  Despite the freedom of choice available to the PC, the game presents the Nietschzean Will to Power as something the Dovahkiin must overcome at every turn.

Perhaps the most prominent example of this bias occurs in the Dragonborn DLC.  During the Main Quest, the Greybeards warn the Dovahkiin not to abuse his power, but in Dragonborn, we are presented with an antagonist who did precisely that.  What separates Miraak from the other two "final bosses" is that he is a dark reflection of the PC: a Dovahkiin who uses his power for himself rather than for some higher purpose.  In other words, Miraak plays Svidrigaïlov to the PC's Raskolnikov.

While one may choose to play a Nietschzean Dovahkiin, the game clearly favors the Hegelian model.  The vast majority of the minor and side quests ask the player to do something for someone else's benefit.  The Nietschzean role-player has to work around that through cynicism: I am doing this favor for the sole purpose of getting a reward.  Of course, a player can wreak mayhem in the streets, but really, almost every scripted quest invites the player to help someone else.  Even the Dark Brotherhood quests are presented in the context of helping the "family."  Furthermore, each main quest (Skyrim, Dawnguard, Dragonborn) pits the PC against a Nietschzean adversary in order to save the world.  At no point can the player choose to join a Nietschzean NPC in his quest to destroy or enslave Tamriel.  Yes, one can join the Volkihar, but Lord Harkon is still the enemy because his insane plan puts all vampires at risk.  One could argue that joining a Nietschzean faction would be nearly impossible to script because a faction centered around an Übermensch would be a cult, an cults negate the agency of the member, which would run counter to the necessary agency of the PC in an RPG.  This objection merely pushes the question down the road: are all RPGs anti-Nietschzean?

In short, Paarthurnax underscores the Hegelian tilt of Skyrim.  How else to understand a game in which one of most beloved characters is essentially a Hegelian version of the Nietschzean villian?

Sunday, July 7, 2013


As I pointed out in my Diplomatic Immunity post, the main quest of Skyrim does not offer a high number of moral dilemmas.  Even if I were to accept the Greybeards' theory that Alduin's attacks presage the just and inevitable end of this world in preparation for the new world to come, my role as Dovahkiin draws me just as inexorably to a confrontation with the World Eater.  Therefore, despite the high drama and plot tension extant in the main quest, there are only a handful of opportunities for true moral agency.  The quest entitled Paarthurnax presents the fourth and final scripted moral dilemma.

After discovering Sky Haven Temple, Delphine tasked me with helping her to rebuild the Blades.  I was to recruit three warriors whom I thought would be well-suited to the task of hunting dragons and, perhaps eventually, protecting a Dragonborn Emperor.  I chose three followers whom I knew from experience could handle the job: Uthgerd the Unbroken and Lydia (my housecarl at Breezehome) had demonstrated impressive skills in Heavy Armor, One- and Two-Handed Combat, Blocking, and Archery, so they were natural choices; I also selected Brelyna Maryon from the College of Winterhold, whose formidable Conjuration and Destruction talents allowed me to round out a small army of dragon hunters that could bring both melee and ranged attacks into any situation.  Having bolstered the ranks of the Blades to Delphine's satisfaction, we went out on a few successful dragon raids without incident.  I then returned to the main quest, which took me back to High Hrothgar to finally meet Paarthurnax, the leader of the Greybeards... 

[SPECIAL NOTE TO THE READER: While I have clearly indicated in the banner of this blog that spoilers abound, this particular post contains what is arguably the biggest spoiler in the game.  Of course, the game has been out for almost two years now, so anyone reading this blog is probably already aware of the plot twist, but one never knows.]

...who is a dragon!  The animosity between the Blades and the Greybeards now makes sense.  The Blades see dragons merely as a threat to be vanquished, while the Greybeards see them as powerful, near-divine beings, capable of both profound good and cataclysmic evil.

My conversation with Paarthurnax was without a doubt one of the most enlightening in the entire game.  I learned not only about the history of the Dragon War, but also about the conflict at the core of dragonkind: the will to power.  According to Paarthurnax, it is in the nature of dragons to seek power, regardless of mortal notions of morality. He explains his own centuries of peaceful meditation as a constant struggle against his deepest instincts.  For a full appreciation of Paarthurnax's story, I recommend the reader invest some time (about 20 minutes) watching the clip below from another player's YouTube video:

In my next post, I will delve more deeply into the Nietzschean/Hegelian conflict at the core of the Alduin/Dovahkiin battle, but for now, I am limiting myself to the events that occur immediately after this encounter with the "good" dragon.

Aside from teaching me how to use my Shout more effectively, Paarthurnax pointed me in the direction of the Elder Scroll that would enable me to go back in time and learn the Dragonrend Shout that defeated Alduin ages ago.  After finding the Scroll, I returned to Paarthurnax, unfurled the Scroll, saw how a trio of my ancestors banished Alduin from their era, and learned the Shout; this action broadcast my location to Alduin, who showed up to kill me before I could have a chance to defeat him.  Paarthurnax, despite his nature and his previous allegiance to Alduin, battled the World-Eater in the air while I attempted to use Dragonrend to ground him.  Although we did not kill Alduin this time, we managed to drive him into hiding.  Paarthurnax recommended that I find and interrogate one of Alduin's minions in order to learn where he fled -- no easy task.  My next move was to report to Esbern to ask for some advice.

Esbern was more than happy to offer his insights on capturing a dragon, but then he presented me with a new problem; citing his oath as a Blade, he demanded that I kill Paarthurnax, and refused to provide any more assistance to me until I did so.  Delphine seconded his ultimatum, and cut me off from the further services of the Blades.  Once again, I would have to choose sides in a conflict when I'd really rather not.

Actually, Esbern and Delphine express slightly different reasons for demanding the dragon's death.  Esbern points out that, during the first dragon crisis, Paarthurnax was one of Alduin’s lieutenants during the first dragon crisis, and was personally responsible for a whole host of atrocities against man.  The fact he eventually turned on Alduin and helped to defeat him both now and in the past is utterly irrelevant to Esbern; the old dragon must pay for his crimes.  Delphine agreed, but added that Paarthurnax’s betrayal of Alduin indicates a dangerous disloyalty which could turn against me at some point; after all, if he was willing to turn on one of his own, how much more likely that he would turn on a mortal ally?

Of the two objections, Delphine’s was the easier to counter.  By my figuring, there are only two scenarios in which her fears could come true.  Perhaps, at some point in the future, Paarthurnax’s loyalty shifts again, and he decides he was wrong to help me in the first place – or maybe he never really turned on Alduin and was just waiting for his master to return in order to draw the Dovahkiin out.  Should that happen, I am confident that I could dispatch him without too much risk.  The second and more troubling scenario is that Paarthurnax is actually looking to supplant Alduin, and is using me to do it.  What if Paarthurnax helped the original Tongues as a means of getting his superior out of the way?  When they succeeded in sending him into the future (but not destroying him), Paarthurnax decided to wait patiently for Alduin’s return, then teach the Dovahkiin how to destroy him, only to turn on the Dragonborn once Alduin was out of the way.  The problem with this second scenario is that, in order to believe that he could defeat the man who killed Alduin the World-Eater (a dragon he himself dared not attack directly), Paarthurnax would have to be both desperate and foolish, and I doubt he is either.

Esbern’s argument, on the other hand, gave me real pause.  The central question is whether Paarthurnax’s current assistance mitigates his past crimes.  In each encounter with an NPC who has done wrong, I have relied on the presence or absence of remorse as my barometer. To be more specific, I look for remorse in the form of action rather than words.  Sinding said he regretted killing the little girl, but he was unwilling to face justice, so I killed him.  Erandur rejected the Daedric Prince Vermina whom he once served, became a priest of Mara, and risked life and limb to save Dawnstar from its nightmares, so I chose to help him and refused to kill him when Vermina commanded me to do so.  Paarthurnax, as far as I can tell, is more like the latter than the former.  He betrayed Alduin at great personal risk, then devoted the rest of his long existence to helping the Nords master the Way of the Voice.  Furthermore, everyone affected by his previous actions is long dead, so there seems to be little point in retribution.  I fully appreciate the magnitude of his crimes, but to kill him at this point seems unjust. 

Another point to consider: even though they began as an elite squad of dragon-hunters, the Blades served the Emperor as a personal guard, before the Thalmor eliminated them.  I cannot help but be a little put off by the fact that they now refuse to help me unless I follow their commands.  I don’t normally pull rank, but to be fair, I am Dovahkiin.  If anything, the Blades should trust me and follow my commands, not the other way around.  One might argue that the Greybeards would have the similar reaction if I did kill Paarthurnax, but then they never swore an oath to protect me, did they?

Even taking Paarthurnax's crimes into account, I cannot bring myself to kill him.  I may come to regret this decision for a number of reasons, but I believe it would be base ingratitude to kill the dragon who risked his own life to save ours.