Favorite Character: Garrett Hawke
(Note: In my playthroughs and in the analysis below, I inevitably lean toward Garrett Hawke, because I find beards hot and Nic Boulton is a fucking boss. But all this could easily be said about Marian Hawke, too. She’s just as phenomenal. And her ass is a work of art.)
This answer might sound self-indulgent. “Hurr, hurr, Flutiebear chose the Gary Sue as her favorite character, how DROLL”. And I won’t deny that the player’s choices inform Hawke’s character in ways that wouldn’t otherwise be there: Every Hawke is slightly different, a special little snowflake, albeit ones with no shirt or red hair or bitchin’ tattoos.
But that doesn’t mean Hawke is a blank slate. Far from it.
This one will be long. You’ve been forewarned.
One of the things I love about Dragon Age 2 is how freely it plays with the concept of limited perspective—including how it treats its protagonist. To discuss any major plot event in the game, first we must specify which “version” of Hawke we play, since our class, alignment, even the voice we adopt in answering questions affects the story we experience. Sure, the big plot points occur no matter what you do. But depending on how you roleplay Hawke, your takeaway will vary so much that it becomes an entirely distinct narrative from mine – it’s the difference between Beowulf and Grendel, or Hamlet and Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead. Is Anders a terrorist or a savior? Is the Gallows a prison or a safe haven? Is the Eluvian a menace or a salvation? The answer to all these is: Depends on who you ask.
*sigh* I fucking love that.
But that said, all iterations of Hawke – not just the one you or I or Mary Sue down the street elect to play – share a few things in common, but especially this: Hawke is defined by his loneliness.
Indeed, the name “Hawke” itself evokes the titular bird of prey: A sharp-eyed, decisive raptor wheeling in the sky above, a lone silhouette against the clouds, waiting high above the fray for the opportune moment to strike.
You never see a flock of hawks.
Despite his many companions and lovers, Garrett Hawke is a creature of solitude and loss. As eldest son of the Hawke clan, it is his role to be the pillar of the family, the “man of the house”, as it were. He must step into his father’s empty shoes and hold his family together, whether they want him to or not. His role is to serve where his father cannot: as a protector, a guardian, the glue that holds his petty, self-absorbed, backbiting family members (yes, even you Bethany) together in a time of catastrophe.
It’s not an easy role, and Hawke’s position is one that Varric, given his own past, clearly sympathizes with. Those shoes, our fearless storyteller knows, would’ve been tough to fill even if the Blight had never happened.
But of course the Blight happens.
At the beginning of the game, Garrett Hawke has already lost so much: his father, his homeland, his possessions, his friends—indeed, everyone he knew or has ever known, save his immediate family, is gone, victim of the Blight. Think about that for a second. Everything you know, or have ever known, ripped from you without your consent, without the ability to fight back, without even the courtesy of a fair warning. That would destroy me. And you can see it destroy Garrett too.
He dies that day on the cliff-face above Lothering, just as surely as Wesley does, except Wesley has the luxury of actually dying while somehow, Garrett has to figure out how to keep moving on.
The Blight is, in my opinion, the formative event in Garrett’s life, and it’s the main reason Varric’s story starts where it does. You can’t understand Garrett without understanding that terrible flight from his homeland, when Garrett the farmhand died and Garrett the Champion was born. But sadly, this is the point of our story where our hero still has the most to lose.
Part of Dragon Age 2’s brilliance is that on the surface, it seems like a Hero’s Journey – a self-made man, a refugee made good, a man who hauls himself up by his bootstraps and rebuilds the wreckage of his life.
But that’s on the surface. Underneath the façade, where it counts? Garrett fails. Miserably.
Over the next seven years Hawke gains new friends, an estate, a title and political power. But even as he does so, the things that matter – the people he loves and fights for — are stripped away from him one by one – all due to Garrett’s inability to protect the people he loves from external threats.
First taken are Bethany and Carver, one by an ogre’s hand and the other by the Grey Wardens, the Taint, the Templars or the Circle (depending on your specific choices). Next is Garrett’s mother, whose simple hope of finding a second chance at love is met by a serial killer’s embrace. Bodahn and Sandal, his manservants, eventually decide to leave too, fleeing to Orlais after the Templar-Mage troubles begin.
Even Garrett’s closest companions all eventually leave his side, as Varric reveals in the epilogue (all save one, of course, but more on that later).
Some of this is his fault, some is not, but Garrett simply cannot seem to hold onto the people he loves, no matter what he does or how hard he tries. And while the various personality iterations of Hawke – Good, Sarcastic and Aggressive – each express this loss in different ways, the loneliness itself is always there, always cast in stark relief.
I mean, just look at the people Garrett surrounds himself with. An apostate abomination. A former First kicked out of her tribe. A pirate whose entire crew died while she was at the helm. An ex-slave on the run from his former master. A co-dependent dwarf who compulsively lies to hide his own pain. A mother without any children, who hid from love even before she lost it.
Garrett collects only the loneliest, most broken people he can find; indeed, all his companions say, at one point or another, “I am alone”. But they never are, because no matter what, they have him. They always have him. They are never, ever alone. Not like he is.
The thing is, Garrett Hawke’s story is not a Hero’s Journey at all.
It’s a Heroine’s Journey, and if you didn’t know that even existed, go check out the work of Maureen Murdock, who pioneered this research. (And don’t be fooled by the name – men can have Heroine’s Journeys just as much as women can have Hero’s Journeys.)
The Reader’s Digest version of her theory is this: In the Heroine’s Journey, the protagonist starts with everything she needs, loses everything she thinks she needs but really doesn’t, in order to find the power that she had within her all along. Additionally, the Heroine builds a family from her companions along the way; unlike in the Hero’s Journey, her friends do not abandon her or step aside at her critical moments, but rather help her to understand and unlock the power she had within her all along. Beating the bad guy often seems like an afterthought in a Heroine’s Journey, because it really isn’t the point – the point is coming into and owning one’s potential. Think The Wizard of Oz, or Mulan, or the best example in recent years: Tangled. Or, you know, Dragon Age 2.
Garrett Hawke is a classic protagonist of a Heroine’s Journey. He starts with all the strength and power he needs locked away within him. He loses all his existing family members, and all that remains is the new Legacy he has built, this new family of broken people, and his own strength and resilience.
And most tellingly, when he fights Meredith, it’s not just Garrett. It’s Garrett, and his active party members.
And his non-active party members.
And even Dog.
The first time I saw it, I cried. I actually cried. Hell, I’m getting a little misty-eyed just thinking about it.
Yes, they all leave him afterward, for whatever reason, and I think we’ll find out exactly how and why later on in DLC or an expansion or some other content – but it is telling that in the climax of the story, in Garrett the Champion’s time of most dire need, the family he builds, all that remains, does not abandon him.
That’s why I love that final fight so much. And that’s why I love Garrett. Because I can’t leave him alone, either.
When we see Garrett in his private moments, the image is always the same: he is always staring silently into his fireplace or into space, hands clasped, mouth a tight line, a sad, thoughtful expression on his face.
What does he see? Nothing, probably. That’s the expression of a man who doesn’t see anything at all.
He thinks he’s alone.
He’s not. Because I am there with him.
And I always will be.
Right here, Garrett. Til the day we die.
ETA1: Prompted by questions in the reblogs, I wrote a short follow-up ramble on what exactly IS The Heroine’s Journey here.