The Cute Elf’s Dark Story – Analysing Merrill’s Psychology in Dragon Age II



If you’ve read any of my other articles you may have noticed that I’ve got a thing for sweet, cuddly, adorable and adorkable girls. Merrill from Dragon Age II is therefore my bae. I adore her to bits. Not only because she is such a sweet and adorkable character, but also because her personality is incredibly complex yet simple. At the core of her personality she wants to be respected by people and she will do anything to get it. It’s got all the makings of a sad tale, delivered in one nice sweet, sugary coating.

Merrill can sometimes come across as a walking contradiction: she’s a sweet girl, would never do anything bad (intentionally at least) and is kind to anyone, regardless of race, gender or occupation. Yet she’s also a blood mage, has only offensive spells, doesn’t take mercy on her enemies (“May the Creators have mercy on you! I certainly won’t!”) and is dead set on restoring a mirror that has claimed the life of two of her clanmates. Her convictions are so powerful that she turns to blood magic and is more than happy to be vilified by her entire clan. As long as she can fix her mirror everything will be alright. This belief actually stems from her suffering from a severe inferiority complex.

Mommy’s Baby, Clannie’s Maybe

Despite what you may think and despite how often she’s alone Merrill is a sociable girl. She loves talking to people and her entire thought process is based on what she can do for her clan and her people. How she can benefit them and how she can become accepted by them. Our Elven apprentice wants to be wanted and needs to be needed. Because Merrill was apprentice to Marethari and comes from a different clan she had difficulty bonding with the rest of the clan. Whereas all the other Dalish elves knew each other since birth she knew them after she was became the First. Where the members of the clan learn the necessary Dalish skills and spend time together Merrill is learning lore and magic well away from the rest.

One of the first things we see this cute Elven prodigy do is perform a ritual to resurrect Flemeth. It’s a subtle way to show just how powerful and competent Merrill really is that she’s allowed to do something so important.

This is where that inferiority complex and her obsession with the mirror come into play. Because she has no real bonds she feels like she doesn’t belong in the clan. Because she has poor people skills she can’t really talk to others without making an (adorable) fool of herself. This results in everyone and their mother underestimating her. How can you take such a sweet little girl seriously? Don’t you just want to hug her? I certainly do. But the thing is that this girl is also a Elven prodigy. She knows an incredible amount of Dalish lore and is considered a powerful mage in the old magics by Marethari. She spends seven years working on the mirror, trying to restore it in order to benefit her people. This required her to do research on spirits, blood magic, the mirror, even more Dalish lore,… She’s very intelligent. She just has a lot of difficulty actually communicating this to others. This definitely causes her to harbor some bitterness and jealousy towards people like Hawke; skilled individuals who are also more than capable of showing that they’re strong and powerful. Hawke’s charming, sarcastic, kind and proving himself comes so easily. Compare that to Merrill, who can’t open her mouth without saying something embarrassing.

A few seconds before Pol realised just how big of a booboo he made running into the lair of the Varterral.

This all results in Merrill wanting to prove herself, in wanting to show to the clan that she is a valuable addition and that she can become a reliable keeper. She wants to prove herself and the mirror is her opportunity to do so. It’s an old Elven artifact, it’s magical and if she can fix it she would actually find a new part of the ancient history. She would become a hero. This mindset is very apparent throughout all of her personal quests, because even if she’s working for the clan, the rest of the Dalish hate her guts and Pol was so afraid of her that he’d rather run to his death; as long as she fixes the mirror everything will be alright. So is it any wonder that she’s so obsessed with it? In her mind it’s her one chance at redemption and glory.

And that is what I like about this character. Suddenly that cuteness gets a dark undertone. Suddenly all of those moments where she makes an adorable fool of herself demonstrate her biggest problems. Nobody takes her seriously or thinks she’ll amount to anything because she says something stupid every time she opens her mouth. It’s very good writing, as it triggers an instinctive desire to protect her and to take care of her. A reflex she absolutely despises, which creates a vicious cycle of her stubbornly clinging to her beliefs.

Pride Cometh Before Marethari’s Fall

A possessed Marethari dying after choosing to pay Merrill’s price for her.

Merrill is a prideful person. She knows that she’s intelligent and a powerful witch to boot. This, coupled with her desire to prove herself, constantly cause her to not accept any blame for her actions. Or for her to sit down and actually think about what she’s doing and what kind of damage her actions can cause. She is convinced that she has full control over her deal with the demon Audacity, because she’s constantly planned for it and is guarded when dealing with spirits. But because of her poor social skills she doesn’t realise that her actions also affect others and not just herself. That there are always factors at work that she doesn’t have any control over. A simple example is that she’s perfectly willing to die and even asks Hawke to kill her if she turns into an abomination, but she doesn’t realise that both Hawke and Marethari would rather prefer to save her than actually kill her. That they care a great deal about her and want to see her happy. Those are feelings that she has no experience with, which is why she was so shocked that her keeper and mother figure chose to pay the price in her stead.

Though speaking of Marethari, I also feel that her actions in the game are incredibly weird. It’s important to note that the Keeper and her First have spent a lot of time together. They know each other very well and Merrill asks for Hawke’s help in act 2 getting the Arulin’Holm, because she knows that she and her keeper will only spend time bickering and talking in circles.

So it should make perfect sense that Marethari knows Merrill has a severe inferiority complex and a strong drive to prove herself. Isabela realised the moment Merrill told her she wishes she could be a pirate too. Yet in every interaction between the two elven mages Marethari scolds her, belittles her, tells her she doesn’t know what she’s doing and tries to convince Merrill that her actions are misguided and pointless. Exactly all the things you should NOT say to someone who is so desperate to be acknowledged by others. This is very weird and actually gives credit to the fact that Marethari might have been possessed ever since act 1. Because while it doesn’t make any sense that a mother figure wanting the best for her adopted child would actively fuel Merrill’s stubborn obsession with the mirror it would benefit the demon that taught her how to do blood magic and wants to get out of its prison. Marethari said that she paid the price for Merrill, but she never specified when she did. Anders and Connors demonstrate that a willing abomination can function “normally” for a while and Merrill is surprised that Marethari stays in the same place for seven years, when she should’ve moved on years ago.

Magical Mirror Misery

The source of the conflict between mommy and girly and what ultimately Merrill strives to repair. There is a certain longing in this picture, a longing Merrill never shows Hawke! D:

Of course, this can be my interpretation on the matters and it’s not necessary for Merrill’s story. Just like her apprentice Marethari is a stubborn and prideful person and she is completely convinced that what Merrill is doing is wrong. That she’s playing with forces she doesn’t understand. Marethari thinks she knows better and that ultimately Merrill will recognise her foolish behaviour and change her path. All the wise leader needs to do is wait for Merrill to come around, as she apparently always has in the past. Of course that doesn’t happen. It only fuels her apprentice’s desire to prove herself and drives her closer to the mirror. So whether it’s magical manipulation or a mother figure completely mismanaging the situation, both roads lead to the demon.

So naturally all these elements are what make Merrill ultimately a tragic figure. Because had Marethari accepted and acknowledged Merrill as an equal I don’t think the young elf would’ve become so obsessed with the mirror. Had she been closer to the rest of the clan and a tad more social she would not have been so obsessed with the mirror. It’s because of these unfortunate set of circumstances that she loses her mother figure and potentially the rest of her clan. Which is a real shame, because her inferiority complex also makes her a very sweet and kind girl in general. Arguably one of the nicest characters in the game who at the end only needs a psychologist to sort out her mental issues…

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Copyright: The images used in this article are screenshots taken from the video games “Dragon Age: inquisition” and “Dragon Age: Origins.” We are allowed to use them under section 107 of the US Copyright Act of 1976. “Dragon Age: Origins” and “Dragon Age: Origins” were created by Bioware.


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