Merrill is one of those characters who, on the surface, seems so vulnerable, so weak and in need of Hawke’s protection. That cute, cheerful, secretly soulful kitten demeanor plays on every “Manic Pixie Dream Girl" stereotype in the book, and I can see why a lot of my nerdy guy friends immediately gravitated to her over a more outwardly challenging love interest, such as Isabela or Anders. I mean, she’s kind of the "safe pick", right? That is, she’s the kind of love interest we’ve seen over and over and over again in video games, ever since Aeris first offered Cloud a flower in the middle of a street chase.
And yet, despite appearances, Merrill isn’t your typical Manic Pixie Dream Girl. She’s hard, self-righteous, fearless. She needs nobody’s protection. And she has a spine of iron, with an obsession to match: Her fixation on the Eluvian makes Anders’s cause look like a mere internet petition, and her hubris? Well, Sophocles himself would blush.
I mean, this is a woman who sacrifices everything she knows, everything she loves, everything she’s ever been taught was important in pursuit of something greater than herself—which just so happens to be a technology that, if resurrected, could very well destroy the world. (don’t forget, her clan believes the Eluvian transmits the Taint or the Blight, and they might be right).
She’s not weak or in need of protection at all. No, quite the opposite; Merrill is strong, too strong, strong to the point of brittleness; and her love for Hawke shatters everything.
If you rivalmance her, she has a conversation with Hawke that rivals anything Anders or Fenris ever say, even at their most manpain-y:
Merrill: Sometimes I think you’re too good to be with someone like me. I know you mean well, I just wish—you can’t save me, Hawke. It’s not worth trying.
Hawke: I’m not letting you destroy your own life.
Merrill: So you’re willing to burn along with me? If you stick with me, you and everyone you love will be in danger. Do you understand—I can’t bear anything happening to you because of me.
Hawke: It’ll be alright, Merrill.
Merrill: Don’t save me. Please. Just don’t.
That’s not the declaration of love from a cute, vulnerable little girl. That’s the declaration of love from a woman playing with fire, who knows how it feels to be burned, and can’t understand why this person she admires seems intent on throwing him/herself on the flame.
I think this sketch really captures her character deftly: Merrill is naked here, so you’d think she’d look somewhat vulnerable, right? Nope, not her. she is proud, she is lovely, she is in complete control of her situation and her surroundings. And most importantly, she gives none of the fucks for the viewer’s gaze, because the viewer isn’t important at all—her gaze is instead drawn to what’s out of sight and out of her reach.
If someone asked me why Merrill is one of my favorite Dragon Age characters, I’d show them this artwork, because it pretty much says it all.