Skyrim hits Switch and VR this week. Let’s reminisce with the sad, strange tale of a romantic mistake that came back to haunt me.
You cats remember Lydia, right? Housecarl to the Thane of Whiterun, the first companion you meet if you’re just following the main quest doggedly? Gets a bit of flack from punters for being “bitchy” due to a note of weary resignation in her voice when she says she is sworn to carry your burdens as you offload another stack of rubbish dungeon loot into her backpack?
I like Lydia. She’s tough, fearless and moral, and I read her as kind of funny rather than sarcastic. The followers of Skyrim are a long way behind Fallout 4’s companions in terms of personality, but I spent a good portion of my first playthrough with Lydia by my side, and I got fond of her and her constant exclamations of “I’ve never seen anything like that before” when Lyds, Lyds, darling: we literally just did. You goldfish.
Anyway, she died. I didn’t know she could die and it upset me quite a lot. I’d been thinking about marrying her. I’d only just discovered Skyrim had a marriage mechanic, and hadn’t yet looked up who might be on the hook for a handsome rogue like myself in their life, so I was kind of astonished when I popped on my Amulet of Mara and the companion of my days expressed an interest in becoming the companion of my nights, too.
I wanted to see who else might offer so I said no, which was a bit uncomfortable, and took the Amulet off. Lydia didn’t make a big deal about it and we carried on as usual, but it spoiled our relationship a bit. I felt like a heel, knowing she cherished me more than I did her. And I did cherish her, and I was coming around to the idea of getting hitched – you know, it was all just so sudden and unexpected! – but in the meantime there were these long silences, manufactured entirely in my head but no less painful for that. You get out of games what you put in, and what I put in is an over-active imagination, too many feelings and a great deal of social awkwardness.
Wanting to mend things between us, I offered to make her a Blade. She was actually the only person I really knew who was eligible, and I wanted to see how it worked. Plus, tough, fearless, moral, et cetera: exactly the right material for this organisation, I thought. Lydia seemed honoured and the first time I saw her kitted out in Blades gear I beamed. “Look at you,” I said. “Let’s go hunt a dragon!”
So we did that, but I underestimated the challenge of the particular beast we targeted, and I got her killed. I made my friend-and-maybe-more join a dangerous organisation and took her into a perilous situation, and she died because I shamelessly used her as a tank to sneak around pinging arrows at the dragon, and she went into the kneeling bleed-out state, and then I … I shot her. It was an accident, but that’s what happened, and she died.
This wasn’t the first time I’d hurt Lydia. Storm Call: not always a good idea. Walking carelessly across Bethesda’s notoriously physics-agnostic skeletons: unpredictably dangerous. Skyrim’s entire melee system: not ideal. But this was the first time she’d died.
What a terrible experience, eh? Good thing you can just reload. But the thing is – you see, the thing about me is – well the truth of the matter is – okay, it’s a couple of things actually. One was that I’d never seen a follower die before and didn’t even know it was possible. Two was that I’d tried this dragon fight a few times and died myself, and was just really happy to have it done and not keen to reload. Three was that I didn’t … entirely … notice she was dead. I fast travelled a few times, went in and out of a few cells, quick saved over my pre-battle state and lost the auto save back up before I noticed Lydia wasn’t following along behind me with my treasures and litany of comments on my performance.
This didn’t worry me too much because in a game the size of Skyrim little things like follower scripts sometimes go pear-shaped, and I’d lost Lydia in the past. She always turned up, eventually, at Breezehome or Dragonsreach or somewhere else. If not, I’d usually remember I’d ordered her to do something, and by retracing my steps find out where she was and why.
I went looking for Lydia and I found her body in the snow.
So that wasn’t great! I didn’t enjoy that much! I felt pretty bad. I couldn’t even do anything about it. Skyrim doesn’t allow you to bury your pals, and after a few minutes of attempting to drag her corpse somewhere more respectful I gave it up as a bad idea. I emptied her inventory to sell, paused respectfully, and went on with my day. Then I came back and put some clothes on her corpse, because I do have some qualms, even if they take a while to kick in. That was the end of Lydia.
Except it wasn’t, because Lydia began to haunt me.
It took me a while to notice what was happening, but after a while I began to realise that sometimes, when I fast travelled to a new area, Lydia’s body would somehow come with me. At first I thought it was just a random corpse causing nearby NPCs to freak out, but after a few occasions I twigged that something weird was happening, and inspected the body, only to discover the horrid truth: my guilt over Lydia’s death was literally following me around in the form of her sad, unburied body.
Well, you have to make do, don’t you, and eventually I got used to it. I started using Lydia’s body like a cupboard to store my excess things. Like a remarkably less charming version of Terry Pratchett’s luggage, it followed me around. I started greeting it cheerfully. “Hello again Lyds,” I’d say, denuding her still-fresh corpse of whatever treasures I’d stashed in it. “Thanks for that!” Was this respectful? Was it right? Was it convenient? Well, it was all very Skyrim, and I was coping with it. I was becoming happy again.
Unfortunately, Lydia’s shade had other ideas. Little did I know how severely I’d incurred her wrath by first rejecting her romantic overtures, and then killing her, and then failing to notice she was dead, and then using her body as a magical pocket dimension to store 14 glass warhammers. Lydia was out for revenge. She gatecrashed my wedding.
Yes, that’s right: having overcome my heartbreak at the partial loss of Lydia, I’d found love again, this time with that Dunmer chick in the hunting bar at Whiterun who marries you if you hire her even once. She seemed a pretty good bet to me and so I rocked up at the chapel at the appointed time in my Sundas best.
So did Lydia.
The chapel erupted in screams and horror, and the wedding was immediately cancelled. I tried again, and again, but each time with the same result: Lydia determinedly haunted me, her still body a silent objection to my vows of love and fidelity, a poignant reminder of my own perfidy and inconstancy and total failure at life.
This persistent follower body bug was fixed in a later Skyrim patch, apparently, but who knows? I deleted that save, although it was dozens of hours old, and in fact every other save I could find, too. I uninstalled and reinstalled Skyrim. I wasn’t taking any chances. I was not going to drag this ghost round for the rest of my life.
Having spent hundreds of hours in it across PC and PS4, I’m diving back into Skyrim – yet again – to have a go at the VR version this week. The very first item on my to do list is the same as it always is when I start a fresh run: find Lydia, and apologise to her. Repeatedly.