Dragon Age: Absolution's Creators on Making Its Connections Matter

Showrunner Mairighread Scott and EP John Epler talked to io9 about the franchise's new animated venture on Netflix.

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The main characters of Dragon Age: Absolution.
Image: BioWare/Netflix

With Netflix’s Dragon Age: Absolution, BioWare’s fantasy-RPG franchise makes a gradual return after having been previously in a bit of franchise limbo since 2015. The series hasn’t completely gone away thanks to comics and some books, but Absolution marks a real sense of change for the series ahead of the release of its fourth installment, Dragon Age: Dreadwolf. Even if that game may be another year or so out, this show comes at a time when more game franchises are being expanded upon with (usually) animated adaptations.

As a franchise, Dragon Age is largely defined by sprawling epics where characters travel across the lands to fight a great evil with a cadre of allies and willing organizations. But Absolution, not unlike 2011's Dragon Age II, is more of an intimate affair whose central plot revolves around a heist to steal a powerful magical artifact. When io9 recently talked to showrunner Maighread Scott, she revealed that her pitch for the series already had a heist baked in at the start. In her words, it would be “Reservoir Dogs meets Black Hawk Down,” with all the chaos, betrayals, and death that combination implies.

For executive producer John Epler, a heist story made perfect sense to do in the world of Dragon Age. “Heists provide an amazing pressure cooker for emotions, and you get a lot of mileage out of seeing people who shouldn’t be together bump against each other,” he said. They’re fun because of the relationships that get formed (or destroyed) during the events of the caper, and Dragon Age has loved to showcase relationships in all their messy glory. Ask anyone who’s played even one game in the series, and you’re likely to find that they feel about a particular character completely differently than how you do.

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Image: BioWare/Netflix

Epler and Scott were aware of the importance to relationships to Dragon AGe—Scott called them the “second pillar” of the franchise, whether they’re ones that come with player input, or others that form naturally over the course of the story. “Dragon Age is about the people,” continued Epler. “Ultimately, the series is about people, and characters who have an impact. A lot of their impact isn’t just on the people around them, but how those relationships manifest in the larger world, and the different types of relationships you can have. Whether they’re healthy or unhealthy, wholesome or comedic ... That’s part of the appeal: seeing what you do to others, and how [the way] you treat others has consequences.”

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Because Absolution had a short runway to work with (six half-hour episodes versus three games spread across dozens or hundreds of hours), Scott knew that the show couldn’t have the same sense of place as the games. The focus was instead on making the show’s characters and relationships worth being invested in, and that they felt like natural additions to the world of Thedas. She described the cast of thieves and mercenaries as “wonderfully imperfect heroes,” in particular the elf assassin Miriam. “In the show, you see how growing up as a slave in a Tevinter household really affected her and left her broken. But her heroic nature shine through because she’s willing to fight for others, and that’s a theme that’s across all Dragon Age.”

In the prior games, Tevinter was mentioned a few times, and it’s more of a looming presence in 2014's Dragon Age: Inquisition. But Absolution marks the first real dip into the region before players experience it for themselves in Dreadwolf. Much like the heist, setting the show in Tevinter was always part of Scott’s initial plan so as to offer a “small, tantalizing sliver” of the region before the fourth game expanded on what we see in the show. Not to mention that with how much influence Tevinter has over the rest of the world of Thedas, Epler felt that the show could be the perfect opportunity to start talking about what’s going on over there. “Tevinter has such a weight on the world of Thedas, there’s not any other nation that impacted the history of the world as much as Tevinter,” he said. “There’s no nation that has so much tendrils out in every part of the world, good or bad.”

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Image: BioWare/Netflix

Despite its relative proximity to Dreadwolf, though, Absolution intentionally doesn’t try to use its time establishing any real sort of canon for players to latch onto. Some characters from the prior games show up for a spell, and events are broadly mentioned, but Epler (who also serves as Dreadwolf’s creative director) admitted that it was important to avoid setting a definitive canon. He acknowledged it as a “tricky balancing act,” in part because BioWare making its own canon runs the risk of conflicting with the canon players make on their own, and the studio’s word being potentially declared definitive gospel is the last thing anyone wanted. Similarly, there was a desire to make sure Absolution stood on its own, explicit ties to the games or no. “There’s all these elements that make up Thedas and what’s going on,” said Epler. “We were fine with leaving space for these stories to exist and feed into a larger world as a whole.”

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That said, Absolution’s final moments do indicate that it won’t leave the games completely untouched.

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Having successfully made off with the Circulum Infinitum and left Miriam and the rest of the heist crew behind, human mage Hira begins the trek back to meet up with her true employer: Meredith, the final antagonist of Dragon Age II. Encased in a crystal prison (known in the games as Red Lyrium) after her defeat by that game’s protagonist Hawke, and voiced by her original actor Jean Gilpin, her return means some interesting things for Absolution’s future and potentially Dreadwolf.

Both Scott and Epler explained that during the process of conceiving a potential mastermind, the show’s writers wanted someone with “very specific and explicitly stated goals,” and not to mention someone who BioWare hadn’t already locked off elsewhere. When Meredith was thrown in, everyone agreed, as her dogged conviction and drive to eliminate mages exemplified their criteria more than any other villain the franchise. “It became pretty clear that Meredith was the best candidate,” explained Scott. “You needed to find someone to hate, and there are few Dragon Age characters people love to hate as much as Meredith.”

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Image: BioWare/Netflix

Scott was evasive on if a second season for Absolution would happen, but she hopes it does, because she’d “hate to drop Meredith back into the fandom and then run.” For her, Miriam has “more story to tell,” and she would be excited to continue those stories in whatever form they take.

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Dragon Age: Absolution’s first season is now on Netflix.


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