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The Life And Death Of Skyrim's Lydia

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Let me begin by saying this is not a spoiler. This is a random sandbox event caused entirely by something I did, and is in no way scripted into the game. Your Lydia could live forever. So…

There are few NPCs in games that have inspired me to write a song. Well, there’s one. And her name is Lydia. This is the story of her death.

I readily concede that there’s nothing specifically technical about Lydia that makes her any different from any of the other hirelings you can have accompany you as you play. Whether it’s the creepily long-hair-and-balding weirdo, or the guy who informs you that you’ve been a great friend to him after you beat him in a fist-fight, they’re all going to stand in doorways, walk into a rack of frying pans when you’re stealthing, or time things to ensure they step on every trap trigger just as you’re in the danger zone. It’s what they do.

But there’s something special about Lydia. It’s some combination of the fact that she’s officially appointed to you by the Jarl, and that she’s super-dooper pretty. And maybe it’s her passive-aggressive sarcasm. Whatever it is, despite her being a constant annoyance, I couldn’t go anywhere in Skyrim without her. In a large part because I kept getting killed. But also because it was fun to just have her around.

I mean, you can’t say moments like this don’t improve your game:

And so it was that Liddles and I came to emerge from the dungeons of Volskygge, near the Pineforest Tower. A Shout was written on the wall, and on absorbing it into my very being a nearby coffin burst open and revealed the very horrid Volsung.

This was a tough fight. I died very many times, very often thanks to Lydia’s determined efforts to stand betwixt me and the enemy. But with determination, potions, and some degree of skill, he was eventually defeated, somewhat impressively leaving both a pile of ashes at the top of the mountain, and his corpse at the bottom, each containing his properties like paired spun electrons.

“Lydia!” I probably actually said out loud. “We did it!”

“Lydia?”

Skyrim companions can’t die on their own. (Edit: I’m told that apparently they can, but enemies will ignore them when crouched.) If they get seriously injured in battle, they take on the Arnie-in-the-nude pose until they muster the scrap of health together to stagger back into action. That’s unless their final blow comes from you. You can kill them, whether deliberately or by brutal, terrible accident. And when they’re so fond of running in front of your attacks that’s not an unlikely event.

Lydia had died before. A lot. And despite her really adding little of use to the game, I always felt compelled to reload and attempt a fight again, this time with her seeing it to the end. I think it was because it was by my hand, and thus the injustice was too much for my conscience.

But then of course, companions disappear a lot too. They tend to fall off things, or get stuck behind a pebble, and will eventually show up again. And after a cursory look around for a body I figured that’s what had happened. And saved.

She’d turn up. I wandered about, looked in the area for exciting discoveries, waiting to hear that familiar clatter of things being knocked over and traps being sprung. But none came. So I turned to fast travel – the ingenious technique that sees horses and companions magically appear next to you. But there was no Lydia.

I went back to Whiterun, to my house and to her room, but there was no Lydia. I went back to Dragonsreach, to the dining hall, where she’d often have sat before I could afford a home. But there was no Lydia. An empty seat. It was looking bad.

I re-hired Jenassa, the strangely-faced Elf lady, because I was lonely, and still rubbish at fights. But it wasn’t the same. She wasn’t Lydia. I wanted Lydia! But maybe, just maybe, there was a chance she was still alive. Because, well, if she wasn’t, then I was going to have to face the fact that it was I who had killed her, and then carried on.

I returned to the site of the fight, a very steep mountain slope with a ruin at the top and bottom. The fight had started at the top, but it seemed likely Lydia would be somewhere near the base. Jenassa, in her actually-more-useless-than-Lydia status, couldn’t even figure out a path from the lower ruin to the slope, so left me alone for most of the search. And at this point I realised that I genuinely cared. Which was ridiculous.

Well, returning to the scene of a fight where a pointlessly unhelpful companion might have died to find her body was pretty bloody ridiculous. So I guess caring about it, even feeling a chill when I spotted a corpse, running up to it and realising it was a bandit, and then feeling relief – well, I’d already gone far too far down that road to be finding this especially troubling.

THE BASTARD

Mid-search I was attacked by a chancer group of punk-haired Bandits, who didn’t understand the solemnity of the occasion, and only added to the numbers of false corpses that made me gasp. I was gulping, running over, and feeling relief, each time the hope that maybe she was fine. Is that…? No, it’s okay. Is that…?

I saw yet another bandit body, went down to double-check, andohmygod.

There she was. Dead. At the bottom of the slope. I’d killed her.

So after taking all my valuable stuff I’d had her carry, and nicking her armour to give to Jenassa, I paused to grieve. And then decided, for a reason I’m not even going to try to understand as I can’t afford the therapy bills, I thought it necessary to “give her a proper burial”.

It seemed only appropriate that I take her back to the top of the hill, and lay her to rest in the empty coffin of her killer. (Yes, I’m going with Volsung as her killer – he did most of it, I just finished her off with some errant Spark magic. That would work in court.) Yes, it may seem weird to put her in the grave of her murderer, but at the same time, I’ve just spent ten minutes looking for a dead NPC whom I now believe needs to be moved, so weird is relative. And, well, Skyrim leaves bodies there permanently! She’d be there, awkwardly slumped against that rock, for the rest of the game. And I’d know.

So it’s at this point that I’m dragging a naked corpse up a hill. A hill that’s too steep to walk up normally.

If you’ve played games for any length of time, you’ll have learned the techniques for climbing slopes deemed too steep for your character to walk up. Essential for extended exploration of World Or Warcraft, and indeed in any number of other games, ascending mountains inevitably requires exploiting glitches and tricks that allow you to sort of slide up crevices, slide along sides, and whenever you catch a firm footing, jump to claim a few more feet. I use this all the time when exploring in Skyrim, but it hadn’t occurred to me how much harder this would be with a body in tow. The object holding in Skyrim is dodgy enough (Shift and Use, for those who haven’t discovered the unstated command), and when it’s a body you’re trying to lug around it’s difficult enough to walk in a straight line. Let alone scale a slope while attempting to exploit glitches.

You can’t jump when you’re holding a naked dead Lydia. And to get up there, jumping is pretty essential. Which meant developing a new technique that involved ‘throwing’ Lydia up the hill, then jumping, and trying to catch her again.

I was not successful first time. Nor the third.

At this point my wife, Laura, has walked in, and she’s watching me waving a dead body in its bra and knickers, legs hideously splayed, around a mountain. “Is that Lydia?” she asks. She knew the name because my disappearing to play some Skyrim had become known as, “I’m just off to see Lydia.” And she knew Lydia had died because I’d previously wailed down the stairs, “Lydia’s dead!” She told me to take a screenshot while she changed into something black. She is sarcastic, and doesn’t care about Lydia.

“Why is she in her bra and pants?”

“Because I needed her armour.”

“Right.”

And videogames are thus further condemned. And then I drop Lydia, and she slides all the way down the mountain to the very bottom, crashing nakedly into the rocks yet again. And Laura looks at the ground, and leaves the room.

I do get her there. Getting her into the coffin is an ugly, awful sight. Trying to arrange her arms and legs, so she doesn’t reach the Norse gods all twisted up, is complex and certainly disgusting. But I get there. And there she is, lying peacefully before the impressive Shout-containing wall, in the splendour of the snowy vista. She’d want that. Were she a person, and not some crappy AI.

And then I remember I have a spell for reanimating corpses.

Well, you would too.

I’m not sure what I was expecting. The spell causes a dead body to become a supporting zombie for 60 seconds. I could keep casting it on her, once a minute, and pretend she was still with me? That wouldn’t be strange. I could at least get her home, have her corpse in my house, like any normal person.

But it didn’t work. It wasn’t a powerful enough spell. Or Lydia was too powerful for it, as the game reported. And I was finally able to let her rest, to carry on.

Until I found a more powerful reanimate corpse spell for sale. One that reported it could bring more powerful dead types back. So maybe? I returned to where her body was still laid in its open casket, presumably preserved by the cold. And, well, I tried again.

She is gone. And I am coming to terms with that. I am moving on. I am learning to shout at Janessa instead, entirely unfairly claiming that “Lydia would never have done that,” knowing full well she would have. Laura is getting used to my talking out loud to a completely new imaginary person, where “getting used to” means “is increasingly worried by”.

“It would be fine if it were normal videogaming things, like ‘WOAH!’ or ‘I can’t believe it!’ But you’re having conversations. Serious conversations.”

Apparently that’s wrong.

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Who am I?

John Walker

Senior Editor

One of the original co-founders of Rock, Paper, Shotgun, I'm now a senior editor and hero of humanity. Old and special.

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