Queer Characters: Zevran Arainai

N.B. I originally wrote this for GayGamer on March 7, 2011. GayGamer has since ceased to exist, so I am republishing this here, and will also do so with a few other pieces over the next few months. Of late I am replaying Dragon Age: Inquisition, so this series of posts about Dragon Age before the release of Dragon Age 2 has played through my head.

Zevran Arainai is a bit of a touchy subject around many forum threads that discuss him, both regarding his sexuality and not. His hedonism tends to rub many the wrong way, in much the same way that Morrigan’s cool, selfish, and pragmatic demeanor does. The counts against him in our community tend to go along the lines of: he’s an elf, he’s a rogue (albeit, specced to be dual-wielding and in the thick of it), he’s promiscuous, he sounds like Puss in Boots Lothario type (though only if you stick to the Shrek version of such), and the most pressing one being that he’s not Alistair.

Taken from a distance, Zevran seems a walking stereotype, though one with a few complications. In some ways, he does fit the depraved bisexual trope; at the same time, his story has an arc that can move him beyond such, though if you don’t like him initially, and thereby don’t approach him looking to gain his trust, the opportunity likely won’t present itself.

However, my first Warden happened to be a power-hungry mage who started off believing that both the ends justify the means and that might makes right.

The first time my mage found pause was during the Anvil of the Void quest. Having Shale, whom he respected, voice such an opposition to the use of the Anvil meant he could not actually follow through with such. Similarly, when headed to the Alienage in Denerim, Aeazel found himself ready to take the Tevinter mage’s offer of power in exchange for turning a blind eye to the elves being sold into slavery. At that moment Zevran stepped up and called my Warden out on his behavior, which resulted in saving those elves.

I do love the face tattoo.This changed the way I saw Zevran: a lot of his braggadocio and devil-may-care attitude was a mask. What became apparent was that he is a character at the intersection of a lot of problems, including those of class and race. His talk of being an elf is not as overt as that of Velanna in the expansion, for instance, so it often becomes easy to overlook it as anything more than (as others are quick to label him), “That gay elf.”

Therefore, Zevran suddenly became someone who had adopted his attitude largely to throw off anyone who might otherwise look down on him. Born to a mother who was a prostitute, sold as a child to the Antivan Crows, and belonging to an order that values flaunting its might to scare off entire nations. Antiva has no standing army of which to boast, so the fact that the Crows hold off nations says something about both its reputation and willingness to be flashy.

When you encounter Zevran, he has been hired to kill you. It doesn’t take long before he hits on your character, male or female. As a woman, this comes quite readily. As a male, he comes to it in a slightly more roundabout way. He compliments you, and blatantly pays you a compliment on your appearance. There are three ways to respond: turning him down, telling him that you are likewise interested, or stating that you are a man.

It’s the last that intrigues me, as it leads him to mention that he will stop if it bothers you. There is only one response that does not result in negative approval, and that’s to admit you were just surprised. He’ll also expand on his sexuality, admitting he prefers women. The last seems noteworthy because it both illustrates that he was written with an actual knowledge of bisexuality (where people don’t have to be split 50/50 in their attraction) and that many saw this as a way to make him appear less ‘gay.’

The fact that he is easily invited to your tent to do some ‘assassinating’ (his innuendo–I’m not sure I’ve ever called it that with bed mates) has also left a sour taste in many peoples’ mouths. Unlike either Alistair, or even Leliana, he sees sex as something that does not require strings–again, in this he’s closer to Morrigan. At the same time, he also struggles with such. If your Warden sleeps with any other companions, he’ll suggest you go to others. He claims that they will be jealous, and he doesn’t want to deal with such, and that they are more likely to give you a relationship, as he views it as a fling.

Zevran's concept art.Zevran’s particular brand of honesty could probably be described as flippant, again lending his personality to the devil-may-care view. That’s why his suggestion to find solace in other companions somewhat rings false. However, if one keeps pressing him, he will eventually try to cool things down, admitting he does have further feelings for the Warden.

It is these feelings which will prevent his betraying the Warden when they rush through the streets of Denerim and encounter the Antivan assassin Taliesin. This requires either his trust (a +33 approval rating), or his interest in the Warden romantically–otherwise he will turn and attack the Warden, being offered a way back into the Crows. Asking him about this later will reveal Taliesin was part of the reason Zevran took the mission to kill the Warden, all the way in Fereldan. It seems likely that he and Taliesin may have had a fling or romance of some sort, though that’s primarily conjecture; nothing firmly states such.

Being in love will leave the Warden with an epilogue where Zevran will either stay with you for a while if you decide to stay to train Wardens, or where you two go off an have grand adventures (in Awakening, this can include taking over the Crows together–or having a grand duel in public fashion). In particular, this demonstrates his fiercely loyalty. There are more endings, including that if Zevran happens to be in love with your Warden, and the Warden sacrifices himself, he will stay to help the throne regain stability in Fereldan before heading back to become the leader of the Crows. It specifically points out that he never takes another lover again.

The difficulty with that loyalty is that it starts off to the Crows. While he admits that they will send assassins to finish the job he failed (and would not look kindly on his failure were he to return), he still talks longingly of Antiva, and often shares wry and somewhat lewd stories about his time with the Crows. As time passes and he stays away from the Crows, and as he spends time with you, it becomes apparent that he is largely without aim unless provided one. Your death means he returns to the only other thing he knows.

The only other question would be that of his being an elf, which seems to be equated with being less masculine in some way. The way I read him at first was that sleazy guy who thinks he is the Maker’s gift to anyone he comes across, and has this machismo smack to it. His choice of fighting style being dual-wielding, I also didn’t really feel his role as a rogue, particularly an assassin, felt like he was being kept out of the frontlines. Even his particular like for leather and jewelry depends on how one looks at it; neither seems to lend itself to either a more masculine or feminine trait.

Zevran and Aeazel standing in the camp, K-I-S-S-I-N-G.Aeazel and Zevran making out in camp.I enjoyed Zevran’s romance to put it simply (that may be the tl;dr version). As I wrote about my romance with him in December of 2009, he evoked a particular type of pathos in me, and fleshed out a scripted romance I felt was meaningful to me. Much like the other examples I’ve written about the Dragon Age series thus far, he has a bit of depth to him, to the point that my primary complaint would be that the dialog does eventually run out and leaves you with the same options over and over again (a problem with all the romances, unfortunately). Ultimately, Zevran is complicated beyond any one trope (initially fitting into a handful), and he is written in a way that means not everyone can like him. He lacks the goofy charm of the templar that is Alistair, perhaps, but he was much more appropriate for my type of character–particularly as they both grew out of their predefined shells.

About Denis Farr

Writer interested in intersectionality, games, comics, nerdy stuff in general, theater, and how it all mixes. Graduate of Wabash College, with studies in Theater, English, German, and Gender Studies.
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