[Author’s Note: Only minor spoilers will be discussed. If you visited The Fade, peruse freely!]
After 100+ in-game hours and still more Hinterlands questing to be done, I’ve been having quite a lot of trouble settling on a title for this piece. Even knowing the subject of my love letter, it’s still next to impossible conveying precisely how I feel. My choices ranged from ‘Dragon Age Is Cassandra’s Playground & We Are Her Playthings’ to ‘The Life & Times of Cassandra Pentaghast: Queen of Everything.’ You can see my dilemma, then.
This time around, I’d learned well from my previous mistake while playing Dragon Age: Origins that judging an ill-tempered character too quickly might not be the best plan when playing a Bioware game. Still, I hadn’t thought much about Cassandra since her days shouting in the cutscenes of Dragon Age 2. It’s not as though I contested her clear prowess, just that I was enamored with Varric at that point, thus any character aggressively stabbing books in front of him was perceived as a threat—or taking up more dialogue that could’ve been his. May the Gods strike me down for my ignorance. As you’re obviously aware, Cassandra is now my queen and I’m here to tell you, in no uncertain terms, why that is.
Take a journey with me through this masterpost of epic proportions, establishing Cassandra as the single-most complex character in the whole of Dragon Age: Inquisition’s admittedly illustrious cast. If you’re not in love with her and ready to face a horde of darkspawn at her behest after this—I mean, it’s possible you’re actually Corypheus, but I’m sure even he’s a little bit jealous of Cassandra’s serious game. Aren’t we all?
Cassandra reestablished the Inquisition in the midst of an all-out civil war, even without the support of the Chantry she dedicated her life and service to. How, you may ask? Without so much as a flinch. She lives and dies for the good of all, even if the pursuit of that good means shedding the aspects of her former life that are no longer useful. It’s an adaptive nature like that which is precisely what the people of Thedas need in the coming reformation—a person who isn’t afraid to change themselves and their own opinions along with an already changing world.
Even when it becomes clear that those closest to her in the Chantry hardly held themselves up to the standard they swore to, Cassandra continues to persevere. She’s a wall of determination, tall and unshakable, even in her weakest moments of self-doubt. If anyone walks with the Maker, it’s Cassandra.
“Think of it: like Andraste long ago, once again the fate of Thedas will be determined by a woman.”
Pretty sure she was referring to herself there. Though the Inquisitor may be the one making the final decisions at pivotal moments, it’s Cassandra who’s seeing it all realized. Not only was she the one to officially reestablish the Inquisition itself, rallying together what would become the glue of your inner circle, she represents the living, beating heart of the movement’s cause.
In the midst of all this, Cassandra is capable of withstanding the scorn of even the most universally respected leaders, including those who shaped her as a Seeker. That’s far more than most people could handle while bearing the full brunt of a massive breach in the sky and a world at war. Would you be able to watch as those you once respected turned on you and denounced your life’s work? No way. At least, probably not with the same level of pristine bitch face we all aspire to achieve.
Regardless of what your inner circle and party members personally believe, everyone—literally, all the people that you come to meet in your travels—can’t help but respect Cassandra, whether grudgingly or not. Maybe it’s her unwavering idealism in the face of so much uncertainty and destruction that threatens to engulf the world. But more than that, it’s the fact that Cassandra truly wishes to do good. She’s actively reevaluating her opinions and reframing her experiences in order to achieve the best possible version of herself that she can be.
Before every major decision is made, Cassandra makes herself available and is willing to hear out all opinions so as to be fully informed of any possible alternatives. That’s the skill of a seasoned leader. Basically, she’s as near-perfect as a person can get in a world overrun with blood mages and darkspawn.
As a Seeker and formidable warrior, it’s not often that Cassandra has to prove herself to anyone. Still, when the Iron Bull expresses a need to let off some steam the good old-fashioned way, she indulges him in Skyhold’s training yard. It’s not until his less than timely, “This is why the Qun doesn’t like women fighting. I should’ve asked Cullen!” that Cassandra unleashes her full physical strength on him. RIP Bull’s camp cred.
It’s absolutely no secret that Cassandra thinks highly of her abilities, though perhaps ‘confident’ is the better word. She underwent vigorous, arguably harrowing training beyond that of even the most seasoned Templar, so drawing her sword every time an argument breaks out is largely unnecessary. Even her default stance is as telling as it is a threat: feet apart, hands together. Cassandra is balanced and ready to strike—she just doesn’t have to in order to convey the fact that she can.
There’s so much more to Cassandra than her prowess in battle, but she doesn’t allow many people in far enough to discover that. It’s only when her secret weakness for Varric’s steamy romance novels comes to light that we’re finally allowed a chance to peek beyond her fortified facade. True to everything she stands for, Cassandra is a romantic at heart, which ultimately explains how she can manage to continue fighting against a deck so thoroughly stacked against the Inquisition’s cause. Swords & Shields is just a manifestation of that.
“They’re terrible. And magnificent.”
It’s also important to note that even when her secret is found out by the very rival who pens said novels, she doesn’t apologize for what she knows to be true. Cassandra is a lot of things, but a liar isn’t one of them. So what if she reads “smutty literature”? I’m pretty sure we all do. Cassandra is just keeping it real in Thedas.
It’s revealed not long into the game that Cullen, acting Captain and Commander of the Inquisition’s forces, has trusted Cassandra with quite a hefty secret. Not only has he opened up to her about details of his past, but he’s tasked Cassandra—out of all the people within the Inquisitor’s circle, not to mention his own soldiers—with the sole responsibility of stepping in if she deems him unfit to continue serving. That’s kind of a big deal. It means she’s all but solely responsible for the wellbeing of their armed forces on top of the countless duties she takes care of on a daily basis, including (but never limited to) accompanying the Inquisitor if and when she’s called to the field.
Seriously, though, when does Cassandra even have time to do anything else? Does she furiously scarf down bread while on the road? Sleep with one eye open and the tent flap pinned up? I feel for her.
“You are the Herald of Andraste, and my leader—and a woman.”
If you play the Inquisitor as a woman and flirt with Cassandra enough, she will eventually feel compelled to speak to you about it. Despite the fact that this kind of subject is difficult for anyone to talk about, she doesn’t shy away from the necessity of it. When Cassandra counts you as a friend, she treats you with every ounce of respect and kindness that you deserve—even if that means ultimately turning your favors down.
However! As painful as it so clearly is to reject the Inquisitor’s advances, Cassandra does so gracefully (even if we’re still crying about it). It’s a testament to her incredible sense of responsibility and compassion that she so eloquently reaffirms her appreciation for the friendship she does have with you. A fire like sisterhood can’t ever be extinguished.
Even though Cassandra is fundamentally weary of mages and what they could become—granted, this is due to years of service in a largely corrupt anti-mage system—she still works hard to give them the benefit of the doubt. Even though she may not approve of them on principle, Cassandra isn’t about to turn away people who genuinely wish to help the Inquisition’s cause. Everyone under that banner deserves respect (or a cutting remark, as the case may be) in her eyes.
“I may not always agree with your decisions, but how many could do what you have done?”
This also extends to people she simply disagrees with on principle. Varric has given Cassandra absolutely no reason to trust him for the second game and much of the third, yet she continues to allow him to stay. Would she have been completely justified in throwing him out? Sure. Would that have ultimately affected their success in the coming war? Absolutely. It says a lot about Cassandra’s unwavering dedication and continued self-reflection to look past something like that.
“Deal. With. It.”
What more do you want from me? Go play Inquisition, then come back with more moments to add to the list. You grossly underestimate my adoration of Cassandra if you think I won’t be adding to this post later.