Favorite Moments: The saga of Dervorin, the… ringbearer?

We all have our favorite moments in movies, books, and games, moments that stay with us long after the story is over. This column is my attempt to examine my favorite moments and see why they stick with me.

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The game

‘War in Middle Earth’

The video

(Skip to 27:35 to reach the relevant part of the video)

Why it’s great

Stop me if you’ve heard this before: In the land of Middle-Earth, the Dark Lord Sauron seeks to reclaim his Ring, which will give him the power to enslave the world. After the Ring is found by Frodo and his friends, they head for Rivendell, only for Frodo, Sam, and Merry to be cut down by Ringwraiths, leaving Pippin to be the Ringbearer.

Wait, what?

Afterwords, Pippin eventually makes his way to the city of Minas Tirith, where he personally commands the defense of the city, but during one of the seemingly endless assaults, Pippin falls in battle, leaving only heroic Dervorin to take up the ring, at which point he bravely sets out to reach Mt. Doom with 881 of Gondor’s finest infantry. But the quest runs into disaster when all of Dervorin’s troops are mowed down by 500 trolls; now alone, Dervorin must continue alone, sneaking through the mountains of Mordor before finally reaching Mt. Doom and chucking the Ring in, defeating Sauron and saving Middle-Earth!

Okay, so that’s not how The Lord of the Rings played out. But thanks to the computer game, ‘War in Middle Earth’, we have this curiously compelling tale of what might had happened in the tale to save Arda. Aside from the obvious deviation of having all the hobbits die – save Pippin – we get a story where it isn’t some legendary or heroic figure who takes the Ring to Mt. Doom, but some random guy most Tolkien readers have never heard of. I don’t blame any of them either; Dervorin appears only briefly in ‘The Return of the King,’ where he leads 300 men to the defense of Minas Tirith… and that’s all he contributes to the story. We don’t even know if he dies or not, which makes him an odd choice to entrust the fate of all Middle Earth to.

So why do I like this video so much? There’s the novelty factor of seeing a beloved tale being changed so drastically that it’s almost entirely new, of seeing favorite characters take on new roles and getting into interesting situations (like Gimli somehow evading 492 trolls by himself in the wilderness), but what captivates me the most is Dervorin himself. In a film, he would be an unnamed extra, someone in the background who doesn’t draw attention to himself. In battle, he would be one of the countless mooks who’s only purpose is to provide cannon fodder for the enemies, and to die to emphasize how dangerous the battle is. In every aspect, Dervorin is a nobody, an unimportant character who doesn’t have the luxury of plot armor to keep him alive.

Now, imagine what it must be like to be one of this unnamed, unimportant background characters, and suddenly be entrusted with the fate of the world.

When he gets the ring, Dervorin goes from being a nobody to being the most important person alive in Middle Earth. If he fails, Middle Earth is doomed. He’s the ultimate underdog, and we suddenly become invested in his survival, eager to see if he triumphs. And aside from the aforementioned skirmish with all those trolls, Dervorin somehow manages to pull it off, making his way to Mt. Doom all by himself, and managing to throw the ring in, all while apparently being immune to its corruption. That makes him awesome, and a fantastic example of an underdog rising to the occasion and saving the day.

What we can learn from: ‘Half-Life 2: Breen’s Redemption’

 

 

 

 

Valve’s 2004 game, ‘Half-Life 2’ is rightfully regarded as one of the greatest first person shooters ever released, featuring (for its time) unparalleled physics, a gripping story, and one of the most oppressive atmospheres ever encountered in a video game.  Playing as silent scientist Gordon Freeman, the player fights to free humanity from the Combine, an inter-dimensional alien empire that has conquered Earth (instead of, as you might think, a race of sentient grain harvesters).

Throughout the game, the player often hears from Wallace Breen, a human who has allied himself with the Combine as humanity’s ‘administrator’. Though he presents a friendly, almost grandfatherly face to the public, complete with speeches explaining why humanity should work with the Combine, it eventually becomes clear that Breen is not a nice guy. But is he truly a villain?

In-game, we’re told that, during humanity’s hopeless, seven-hour war against the Combine, Breen intervened and managed to negotiate a surrender, where, in exchange for not being wiped out by the Combine, humanity is allowed to exist, but as a subservient race who has to endure a life of nonstop oppression and helplessness. But did Breen do this to save the human race, or to gain power for himself? We’re never told, leaving it up to the player to come to their own conclusions. I like to think that Breen did want to save humanity, and hates the Combine, but he also wants power, and realized that working with the Combine was the way to get it. But in the end, it was all for naught, and he met his end falling to his death from the top of the Combine tower.

But what if he had lived?

‘Half-Life 2: Breen’s Redemption’, by Youtube user Crunchy Soap, examines what might have happened had Breen survived the events of Half-Life 2. The result is a  hauntingly beautiful look at a man who realizes the misery his actions has caused, and a prime example on how to redemption a villain:

How to redeem a villain

1. Have the villain lose everything they gained from becoming evil:

Breen loses his position of power with the Combine and becomes an ordinary person with nothing to his name.

2. Have the villain reach their lowest point:

Breen is injured and alone, and knows that he’ll probably be shot on sight by the Resistance, or any member of humanity with a gun.

3. Have the villain face the consequences of what he/she has done

Unlike other stories, Breen doesn’t face imprisonment or execution for his actions: instead, he comes face to face with the suffering his alliance with the Combine has caused, regardless of any good intentions he might have had when he made said alliance.

4. Have the villain turn against the organization he/she created

Even though he’s an older man and past his physical prime, Breen takes on the Combine elite with nothing but a pipe to save the lives of two Resistance members, and later, three of them with only a submachine gun. In doing so, he reaches a point of no return: by killing members of his organization, he cements his decision to change sides, for good or ill.

5. Have the villain help his former enemies/work to restore what he/she has destroyed

Breen saves the lives of two Resistance members, then a child, and then becomes a full-fledged member of the Resistance, joining their fight to save Earth from the Combine. By doing so, he now does what he can to undo the damage he caused on behalf of the Combine.

While there are deeper villain redemption stories out there, ‘Breen’s Redemption’ is a short, effective tale that’s told without any dialogue(outside of the opening). While he probably would not be given a chance of redemption based on how much the in-game characters despise him, I like seeing him get a chance to turn back, making this video a personal favorite… but if you’d rather see Breen get his comeuppance in hilarious ways, this should help scratch that itch: