Almost eleven years since its release, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is still one of the most iconic videogames to date.
Skyrim grants its players almost complete freedom, yet like many others, I find myself returning to one particular quest line again and again. Even in a fantastical world where dragons rule the skies, I am always called back to the seedy underbelly of Tamriel to tread the well-worn path of blood, guts, and betrayal: the Dark Brotherhood.
Though becoming an e-assassin may seem like old hat, Skyrim’s pitiful group of undeniably charming merry murderers deserves a revisit.
The Dark Brotherhood is an elite faction of assassins that appears in each of the five main Elder Scrolls games. Like everything else in the series, the Brotherhood’s lore has deep roots. NPCs whisper about a bloodthirsty group that lurks in the shadows, mercilessly slaughtering anyone unlucky enough to become a target.
Despite the rumors, the Dark Brotherhood is more than just a group of greedy contract killers, but a deeply religious and organized faction. Guided by their deity, the Dread Father Sithis, and his mummified bride, the Night Mother, the Brotherhood adheres to a strict moral code called The Five Tenets. Without these tenets, the Dark Brotherhood cannot exist—or at least, it shouldn’t.
The guild makes a strong first impression by unceremoniously kidnapping the Dragonborn (a feat in itself considering the player character is the most powerful person in Tamriel at this point in the game) and ordering them to execute one of the hooded victims knelt before them. After a satisfactory amount of blood has been shed, the Dragonborn is invited to join the legendary group of assassins.
[NOTE: To the Skyrim sticklers, no, this technically isn’t the beginning of the Dark Brotherhood quest line, but it’s the first time the player meets any of the members. Don’t come for me please.]
Upon entering the faction’s ramshackle headquarters, Falkreath Sanctuary, it becomes abundantly clear that the Dark Brotherhood is no longer the same powerful organization that struck fear into the hearts of Tamriel’s citizens in earlier installations of the series. Now, they’re the last of their kind.
“Silence, My Brother”
In the 200 years between the events of the previous game, The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, and Skyrim, the Dark Brotherhood was almost entirely wiped out, leaving the few remaining members to unsuccessfully pick up the pieces. Under the guidance of their leader, Astrid, the members within Falkreath Sanctuary have turned their back on Sithis, the Night Mother, and The Five Tenets.
“In Skyrim, we delve into some of the cultural stuff, we deal with marginalized groups, so the stories all over the game were deeper as far as the struggles each faction had,” says Emil Pagliarulo, the game’s senior designer and writer. “The Dark Brotherhood in Oblivion [is] really powerful, so I wanted to look at the Dark Brotherhood like, ‘What can I do that’s totally different?’”