By Geoffrey Bunting
One of the most interesting parts of Dark Souls is its large cast of supplementary characters. Lending credence to the narrative of everything happening over and over; of you not being the first to attempt to link the flame, these NPCs appeared throughout the world – often in need of your help. It added a sense of community in what could have been a very lonely game (especially if you don’t have online privileges). These equivalents to side quests were one of my favourite aspects of the game, as they offered diversions from the main storyline that started to crumble and lose focus after Anor Londo.
And yet, I had a nagging feeling I could neither identify nor shake throughout. This uncertainty didn’t apply to all NPCs. I knew that by helping Solaire I was helping him link the flame himself, I knew that saving Dusk might keep the Abyss at bay a little longer, and I knew that killing Lautrec early would save me some hassle later. Yet, not every NPC storyline gratified me. And I couldn’t work out why until I really looked at one in particular: Siegmeyer of Catarina.
While Solaire seems to hold the flame – second pun in two weeks that super-intended – as the community’s favourite character, Siegmeyer can’t be far behind. We always find him in little jams that we have to help him get out of, often outnumbered by strong enemies, or locked somewhere – Miyazaki loves sticking people in cages. The same is briefly true for his daughter, whom we save from a crystal golem.
We first meet Siegmeyer outside Sen’s Fortress, as he ruminates on how to enter. Siegmeyer’s tactic in these situations is to wait for the problem to resolve itself. Each time, it becomes the responsibility of the chosen undead to save him. Next we meet him in Anor Londo, surveying a room of Gwyn’s silver knights – we clear these out for him too. Keen on more adventure, he ventures into Blighttown, but he is woefully underprepared for the poison and we must provide him with purple blossom. Finally, he makes his way to Lost Izalith, where he watches a group of demonic creatures in a pit below. We slaughter these for him, only to see him killed by his daughter in Ash Lake.
In saving Siegmeyer over and over, we are led to believe that we are the good guys. Here’s this blustery, bumbling guy, who acts before he thinks, constantly getting himself trapped or into scrapes, and we have to wade in and sort everything out. But what if we’re the bad guy? What if we’re sticking our nose where it doesn’t belong? What if, rather than assessing his next move, he is actually – as the subtitle suggests – preparing to die?
As seen at the end of his quest, should he survive uninjured, he is killed by his daughter after he goes hollow. The adventure over, he has lost purpose and becomes like so many of the undead in Lordran – leaving Sieglinde no choice but to kill him once and for all.
Having become affected by the undead curse, Siegmeyer travels to Lordran for one final adventure. He knows he is outmatched, but that doesn’t matter because he is determined to die in glory; in a way that befits his adventurous heart. Initially, he makes his way to Sen’s Fortress, renowned for being an unassailable proving ground. Then to Anor Londo, where he is sure the Silver Knights will be too much for him. Next, he travels to Blighttown, where the toxic has overcome many. And finally, he heads to Lost Izalith, where surely Chaos would finish the job. Yet at every turn the chosen undead pulls him out of his “predicaments”, clearing the way, and leaving him no choice but to seek another death further along the path. He travels farther than he ever thought he could, not through his own merit but thanks to the chosen undead. And with each defeat – for that is surely what these interferences – he loses a little more hope.
His bumbling explanations of his presence are not accurate, they don’t sound truthful. They are just what you would expect to hear. He wants to die in adventure, but he doesn’t want anyone to know of his intentions – even his daughter does not know. Somehow, listening to what he is saying, it even sounds like he isn’t convinced. In truth, he’s waiting for you to leave. The time he takes to consider his situation is the time he’s taking to pluck up the courage to rush in to his death – even for the undead, dying is not easy.
Caught by surprise, he tells you anything in the hope you will move on. And yet, you keep finding him, you keep “saving” him. Even amid the old chaos of Izalith he cannot escape. We drive him onwards and onwards, almost to the kiln itself.
In one last ditch effort, he makes his way to Ash Lake, hearing rumours of a dragon sleeping beneath those arch trees. What better way to go than in battle with a dragon? But arriving, he finds the area empty, yet another triumph of the chosen undead. The dragon is a docile creature, not fit for battle. Seeing the futility; seeing how the chosen undead has taken his last chance to die in battle, he loses hope and he does the one thing he hoped he never would: he hollows.
It’s there that Sieglinde finds him. Having just lost her mother, she is then forced to put Siegmeyer out of his misery and return to Catarina alone. But not before you arrive one more time. She thanks you for helping him, unaware that you are the reason Siegmeyer hollowed. The chosen undead mourns Siegmeyer, but in the context of having deprived him of a death, it feels like gloating.
The story of Siegmeyer is ostensibly the story of a bumbling and slightly inept adventurer, but looking deeper we can see the tragic tale of a man succumbing to the undead curse and determined not to go hollow. And yet, that’s exactly how he ends up. Thanks to our meddling; our need to be the hero, we take away Siegmeyer’s chance to end his life the way he chooses. What’s more, when he does finally hollow, we are not even the one to end him. No, that is left to his grieving daughter.
The role of the chosen undead in Dark Souls has been a matter of contention. It is not certain whether we are a force for good or evil; whether linking the flame is truly the “good” ending to this story or whether letting the fire die is the optimum result. But what is certain is that, in the story of Siegmeyer, we are nothing but malignant force. We hear his plea on each occasion. We hear how he wishes to answer the call of adventure one last time. And yet, in a complete misunderstanding, we deny him.