The Dragonborn still has to kill the Emperor.
“You Can’t Stop the Dark Brotherhood”
Despite being one of the most satisfying quests in Skyrim, players almost never got the chance to assassinate the most powerful man in Tamriel. Pagliarulo explains that he had toyed with the idea, but assumed that director Todd Howard wouldn’t be a fan of allowing players to kill the actual Emperor.
He and his team drafted a number of different ways to end the Dark Brotherhood quest line, including one where the Dread Father Sithis appeared in the sanctuary as a child and began wiping out characters with a plague. Still, Pagliarulo couldn’t stop thinking about the Emperor.
“I knew that Todd Howard would never let me kill the Emperor, so I just assumed it was going to have to be his body double. I went to him with the idea and he’s like, ‘No, that’s stupid. Just kill the Emperor,’” he laughs. “For obvious reasons, Todd is very protective of the lore. It just goes to show how much he appreciates the players’ experience and his trust in me and all the designers to pull it off.”
“Baptized in Blood and Fear”
Like any popular gaming franchise, The Elder Scrolls receives its fair share of criticism. But it must be a good sign that players are still talking about Skyrim’s Dark Brotherhood quest line so many years after the game’s 2011 release (and rerelease, and rerelease, and rerelease).
“When Skyrim first came out, people were like, ‘Yeah, the Dark Brotherhood is pretty good—but not half as good as it was in Oblivion.’ I think the gameplay in Oblivion is stronger with some of the individual quests because there are more unique ways to kill folks, but I think the overall story in Skyrim for the Dark Brotherhood is better and a bit more complex.” Pagliarulo says. “I just thought, ‘I’ll let it sit and see if it will stand the test of time. I think people will appreciate the story there.’ As it turns out, a lot of them have, which has been really cool.”
For obvious reasons, I was too afraid to ask whether Pagliarulo sides with the Stormcloaks or the Imperials. Instead I asked what is perhaps an even more loaded question: Who is his favorite member of the Dark Brotherhood?
He gushes about Veezara for a moment (“Oh, God, I love him.”), then chuckles about the fact that Festus Krex is voiced by Jim Cummings, who was the voice of Winnie the Pooh for a number of years, before definitively settling on the nutty jester.
“Cicero is probably my favorite,” Pagliarulo says with a glint in his eye, knowing how much fans love (and love to hate) the character. “He’s inspired by an Edgar Allan Poe story, ‘Hop-Frog,’ about a jester and his love. They’re tortured by this king, and Hop-Frog gets his horrible revenge on the entire court and sets them all on fire. If you read Cicero’s journals, you realize that he was really a normal person. This ‘crazy jester’ thing is a persona he took on after he became crazy because of the Night Mother. For me it’s like, is there another person inside there? Who is that person, and will they ever get to come out again?”
For a guy who has spent so much time devising ways to brutally kill off his characters, Emil Pagliarulo seems pleased as punch to hear that I left Cicero alive at the end of the quest line. He doesn’t hold it against you if you did kill him, though.
“I just want to say thank you so much to the players for enjoying it,” he says. “It’s your game. Kill whoever you want. That’s what makes you a member of the Dark Brotherhood.”