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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).


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

Monday, May 26, 2014

The Dark Brotherhood, Part 3 (Mourning Never Comes) (Katnys)

Unfortunately, Katnys was not going to get time to reflect on the new direction her life had taken.  Almost as soon as Katnys had returned from completing the first three contracts, Astrid presented her with two new developments.

First, the Keeper from the Dark Brotherhood sanctuary in Cheydinhal, an odd, harlequinesque little man named Cicero, had arrived with a coffin carrying the vaunted Night Mother of Brotherhood lore.  As she listened to Astrid's impatience with the "jester," she was relieved that her leader was not a real devotee of the Night Mother.  Religious zealots made Katnys nervous; tradition should be honored, of course, but this Cicero character seemed as though he might become a disruptive and divisive force in Katnys's newly-adopted family.  She much preferred Astrid's no-nonsense approach -- especially as she explained the second development.

Apparently, Katnys had proven her worth to the Brotherhood to the degree that Astrid now offered her her first major contract.  An apothecary's assistant in Markarth had performed the Black sacrament in hopes of eliminating a former lover, and Astrid wanted Katnys to handle it.  Eager to please the Brotherhood, Katnys collected Jenassa and set off for The Reach.

Markarth turned out to be more dangerous than she anticipated; within minutes of entering the city, she witnessed a murder in the marketplace in broad daylight -- perhaps pulling off this assassination might be a little easier in this environment.  Regardless, Katnys had a job to do, and she was not about to let Astrid down, so she had to ignore the apparent chaos of the city and find Muiri. 

Her meeting with the client added some depth to her understanding of the Brotherhood, but also presented her with a new dilemma.  While readying herself to kill Narfi, she had thought quite a bit about the Black Sacrament, and had begun to believe that those who undertook this ritual only did so when they were at their wits' end, like the Aretino boy.  Muiri's heartbreaking story confirmed this belief, and helped Katnys make peace with her new role as an assassin.  After all, wasn't she in the same position as these clients?  She had no legal access to justice for her sister, so she was forced to seek vengeance in alternate, more brutal ways.  Katnys's and Muiri's stories, while different in the details, shared the same tragic rage.

But then, Muiri added an new rider to her contract -- one that challenged Katnys's already shifting moral code.  After requesting the death of the scoundrel Alain Dufont (an easy kill to justify), Muiri then asked Katnys to kill Nilsine Shatter-Shield as well, as an act of vengeance against the Shatter-Shield family for kicking her out:

Killing a man who used Muiri's naivete and the Shatter-Shields' grief for his personal gain was one thing, but killing a young woman who was only looking out for her family -- a family who had already lost one daughter to a serial killer -- was another matter entirely.

The conflict for Katnys boiled down to choosing between families: her own, and one who had been wronged.  The Shatter-Shields, while nothing to Katnys personally, were experiencing the same kind of impotent grief she knew too well herself.  How could she be the cause of further pain for them?  Still, Astrid had said how important it was to the Brotherhood for her to satisfy this client:

Given the choice between letting down her new family and murdering a young Nord to whom she had no ties, Katnys reluctantly chose the former.  While she felt sympathy for the Shatter-Shields, her loyalty to the Brotherhood outweighed all other considerations.  Therefore, after gleefully slaughtering Alain Dufont and his men, Katnys traveled to Windhelm and waited until nightfall.  Asking Jenassa to wait outside the Shatter-Shield house, Katnys sneaked inside and dispatched Nilsine while she slept; there was no reason to be cruel.

Whatever conflict Katnys may have felt evaporated soon after her return to the Sanctuary.  Astrid was very pleased with Katnys's work, which helped to assuage any guilt she may have felt about Nilsine, then informed Katnys of a potential threat to the Brotherhood in the form of the newly-arrived Keeper, Cicero.  Helping Astrid to protect the family put the Shatter-Shields out of her conscience permanently.  Or so she thought.


  1. >Or so she thought.

    Those words only ever imply good things. I'm sure this will all work out fine for everybody.

    1. Yeah....

      To be honest, that line was a bit of cheap foreshadowing of something that happened later during an unrelated radiant quest.

    2. Now I'm definitely curious. I don't think you talked much about the radiant quests in your previous playthrough.

  2. I know that this is simply you giving a moral examination from a different moral perspective, but the more I'm reading about her, the more and more I'm beginning to dislike Katnyss. She's kinda starting to come across as being kinda self-righteous and frankly narrow-minded. I know that this is coming from a different moral perspective, but it's one that I honestly feel is becoming more disturbing.

    1. Frankly, Katnys is my attempt to get inside a moral orientation that I see frequently in the real world, but don't understand very well. It's a mindset that values the perceived good of one's ingroup over all other considerations. Defending and promoting my family/team/church/gang is the most, and sometimes the only, moral axis -- principles and the greater good be damned. That it makes Katnys less likeable is not surprising; I tend not to like people who view the world through that kind of lens. My goal is try to better understand a moral compass I don't like and don't fully grasp.

    2. I can fully understand trying to understand a different moral perspective-take my comment as a quasi-compliment for making it seem as though this is genuinely a different moral perspective. You've really done a good job so far of riling me up with this character, which is a good thing in terms of your ability as a writer and the ability to immerse yourself in a role.

      This perspective kinda reminds me of one of my other characters, though for different reasons. He's an Argonian, going by the name of "Scorns-the-Sun" (He's a composite of 2-3 of my previous characters, who I had to delete because I thought that A) I simply had too many characters and B) a decent number of them wouldn't have gone through much imagined growth.) To make a long story short, his parents sold him out to the Thalmor as a young age to save their own hides, scarring him for life both physically and mentally as he was abused and tortured for the next 6 years of his life (To his frustration later in life, he found out that they had died about 3 months after they sold him out, at the hands of the Thalmor no less, leaving him unable to get any form of vengeance on them) As such, he trusted noone up until the games starting point, and gradually develops a selective and very small group of friends and loved ones in his journey as the dragonborn. He is highly protective of those people and will go to pretty much any length to protect them, not really being concerned with what's wrong or right, unless it involves children. He also comes to this conclusion regarding the Thalmor, which will actually effect his decision regarding the Civil war: They make for EXCELLENT target practice.

      So, you've told me Katnys's opinion regarding the Hammerfell issue (which I still contend is one of the most ambiguous parts of the entire civil war argument, especially so after re-reading the lore on the Great War), but what about Lothar's?

    3. Great question! As he does with the Talos issue, Lothar tends to see the Empire's more controversial decisions as necessary evils. Do you hang on to Hammerfell at the risk of losing the entire Empire to the Dominion? If you're Ulfric (or Katnys, for that matter), the question is absurd; an empire that doesn't honor its founder and friends does not deserve to exist. But if you think that the Empire is the best bet for preventing Thalmor tyranny, you're going to preserve the Empire above other considerations.

  3. So, Katnyss did kill Nilsine, huh. I've been wondering what her decision would be, since it's one of the few moments when the player has a choice to complete a quest in two ways.

    I wonder at what villainy Katnyss can potentially draw the line. Something she can't frame as being involved in a family of some kind, or something involving child abuse, perhaps?

    1. You've hit on the "cheat" I'm using in this playthrough. Because I wanted to play as a moral agent who would nevertheless make decisions completely different from Lothar's (read: mine), I felt the need to construct a backstory in which my "big three" moral reversals (Civil War, Dawnguard, and the Dark Brotherhood) would have some kind of justification. Therefore, I doubt that there will be anything she can't justify in the ways you mentioned.

  4. Say, I think that line should read with "latter" rather than "former."

  5. You can finish the quest without killing Nilsine; I had already (albeit unknowingly) killed Alain Dufont and his gang before joining The Dark Brotherhood (they attacked me while I was exploring a Dwarven Ruin), so after joining the brotherhood and Muiri tells me to kill him, I told her that I had already done the same. She was flabbergasted, and said that that was unexpected and thanked me (in a shocked state). That's it. The quest was completed. She didn't speak about Nilsine, and I could now return to the Sanctuary. Though if you choose to complete the quest this way, you won't get the optional reward "Muiri's Ring", but I think that the removal of the moral dilemma is way more satisfying than another piece of jewelry. :)

  6. Agree with Joe England that the line should read "Katnys reluctantly chose the LATTER" rather than "the former." Otherwise the lines that follow directly contradict it.

    Regarding this post, there's a real Walter White aspect to Katnys's progression, eh?