You don’t get very far in Dragon Age: Origins without seeing the griffon heraldry of the Grey Wardens. You’ll see the griffon on their armor, on their banners, rings, etc. If you talk to the right people, you’ll hear stories about how Grey Wardens of old battled against darkspawn with the aid of their griffons. It is because they were griffon riders that they were able to reach the archdemon while it was in flight. Can you imagine that final boss fight in Origins if you had a griffon to ride? How about fast travel? Why weren’t Duncan and Alistair riding griffons into victory at Ostwick?
Where have all the griffons gone?
It’s all thanks to a little book called Dragon Age: Last Flight that we learn the sad fate of the Dragon Age griffons.
The last time Grey Wardens had griffons was in the Exalted Age, during the Fourth Blight. That was a few hundred years prior to the beginning of the Fifth Blight in Dragon Age: Origins. Knowing that, it’s easy to assume that the Fourth Blight ended up killing all of the griffons. The Blight did last for a number of years, and the Grey Wardens’ forces severely dwindled.
However, if you take into consideration that Grey Wardens didn’t possess the entire Thedas stock of griffons, things aren’t as clear. It is true that the griffons were wiped out after the Fourth Blight, but it’s not because of the archdemon or the darkspawn threat. It was because of one Warden who was erased from history books—Isseya, twin to the hero of the Fourth Blight, Garahel.
They say the road to hell is paved with good intentions, and the same can be said for Isseya with the griffons. It started when Isseya, an elven mage, asked a blood mage to teach her blood magic. At this point, the Blight had been going on for over seven years, and most of the Free Marches had fallen. Everyone was desperate for a way to end the Blight using nearly any means necessary. Blood magic was Isseya’s desperate solution.
It always comes back to blood magic.
She didn’t really tap into it until a fellow Warden’s griffon accidentally ingested darkspawn blood while trying to save his master. Isseya couldn’t bear to let Shrike die for saving his master, and there is only one potential cure for Blight exposure: Joining the Wardens. However, griffons will not willingly drink from the Joining chalice that contains darkspawn blood. The reason why Grey Wardens use griffons in battle, other than the fact they’re pretty badass, is because they have a natural aggression toward darkspawn. Most animals will fear darkspawn, whereas the griffons will do anything and everything to kill them. Grey Wardens have tried in the past to Join griffons to get them to sense darkspawn they way they do, but all the previous attempts were disastrous. Isseya knew there was risk, but she had to try. Since griffons won’t willingly drink the Joining concoction, Isseya decided to use blood magic to bend Shrike’s mind and force him to drink it.
The good news is, Shrike survived. His personality stayed the same as well, so Isseya and Shrike’s master assumed all was well. Unfortunately, they couldn’t see what the Joining did to Shrike until the next time they flew into battle. Shrike went from natural aggression to complete bloodlust. He acted like he never felt pain. He would not stop attacking and killing darkspawn. The madness nearly killed his master. Shrike did fall in battle this time, but not before saving all of the Wardens, the other griffons, and taking numerous darkspawn down with him. It didn’t take long for others, griffon-riders and nation leaders alike, to ask Isseya to perform the same ritual on their griffons.
Isseya Joined many griffons, but not all, including her own. Since the Joining condemns a Warden to death, in order for griffons to survive, not all could Join. Her blood magic experiment was a big reason why Garahel was able to finally take down the archdemon and end the Fourth Blight. Many considered Isseya a hero, and she might have stayed in history books if the Joining didn’t create another unforeseen problem.
The taint from the Joined griffons was contagious.
Suddenly, all of the griffons had the taint. Even newly hatched griffons became tainted after a while. To ease their suffering, Isseya put down all of the afflicted griffons, thus sealing her fate as more of a traitor to the Grey Wardens than a hero.
Now that you know the rest of the story, you should know there appears to be a future for griffons. Want to know that story? Check out Liane Merciel’s novel. You won’t be sorry.