Hawthorne's Bird is a Key Symbol to Understanding The Light
A lot of Destiny's best stories were told in the lore. And by a lot, I mean all.
With Destiny 2, those invested in the game's lore hoped to see that mature storytelling in a more tangible form. But the final product was a self-contained experience that told a very linear story. The lore was acknowledged, but pushed off to the side.
Or was it?
One thing I noticed with the campaign was its focus. It told the story of the Red War, and--for better or worse--nothing else. Ghaul takes the City, we find the crew, we make a plan, we take the city back. It's brutally simple, and stripped down to its bare essentials.
Except one scene: The Traveler's Vision.
It's almost entirely tangential to the main story, except as a thematic bridge to push the player from defeat at Ghaul's hand, to the European Dead Zone.
Additionally, it introduces a range of imagery and symbolism that aren't addressed at all (besides the peak at The Leviathan).
So let's skim the video because there's no way I'm embedding the video and formatting it for HTML and Facebook Instant Article markup.
Light-bird flies into the water, we see dead people, a 3x4 row of pyramids begin sinking from the surface, the Leviathan is swallowing a planet, we see a Light-spear, Light-Sword and Light-Shield in deep space, Light-bird flies into the European Dead Zone, where we find the glowing Shard of the Traveler.
A lot of that symbolism is pretty easily readable. The Light-weapons in space are undiscovered powers (the new subclasses) that are drawn from a galactic power. The Light-Bird is some abstract representation of our Light, since it flew away from us and is in the European Dead Zone, where we find our power and new subclasses.
This article centers around Destiny's weird bird symbolism and exactly what Bungie's communicating with it.
The Light-bird's journey bridges the gap between our defeat at Ghaul's hand, and the regaining of our power in the European Dead Zone. This mirrors an event that's happening as we slip into this vision: Our Light is leaving our body, to be found in the European Dead Zone.
So, the Light-bird represents our Light.
But that's not all. The Light-bird makes one final appearance that some may have missed.
When you confront Ghaul for the game's final showdown, you board his ship, docked just off The Traveler's Cage. Atop the ship's Quarterdeck, you find Ghaul being bathed in The Traveler's Light. Upon confronting him, he retaliates with the same Super moves that we use. Ghaul's mastered The Light.
Unsurprisingly, you win.
From Ghaul's corpse rises a massive bird of light that spreads its luminous wings, before morphing into Ghaul, made of pure Light. He marvels at this power, and is vaporized by The Traveler.
So, what is The Bird? It's more than a symbol from a dream, it is of actual consequence within the world of Destiny.
To answer this, we need to talk about the nature of Guardians and their lives. Guardians are dead. The Light revived them. Since then, they're immortal. If killed, they can be revived by their Ghost, who were similarly imbued with The Traveler's power.
The exact mechanics of this are a bit opaque, but Ghaul's successful attempt at recreating it sheds a great deal of, ahem, gives us a new perspective on the matter.
Let's examine the nature of the Cabal's curiosity, and how they managed to replicate this power.
Since Destiny: The Taken King, we've known the Cabal to be obsessed humanity's ability to respawn. Since we engaged their mining operations on Mars, we've been a tremendous nuisance in their attritional war against The Vex.
Whether we wanted it or not, we stepped into war with the Cabal on Mars and we took out the command, one by one. We registered as an immediately monumental threat…and an opportunity.
The Cabal were trapped in a perpetual war with an enemy with endless soldiers to throw at them. The Cabal, on the other hand, had finite troops, and little chance of relief from The Empire. With that in mind, the Cabal set to discovering the secret to how humanity found immortality.
In Destiny 2's campaign, Ghaul seizes The Traveler and attaches a cage. This seemingly feeds the Traveler's energy onto the platform of the final fight. In the final encounter, we find Ghaul bathing in a red-hot bath of pure Light, swirling around him.
We are then assaulted with every super ability we've ever wielded. Ghaul has the powers of The Light. But it isn't clear if he's "empowered" or "chosen" by The Traveler. In fact, this entire assumption that this is an actual mechanic needs to be questioned.
This is entirely a story of The Speaker's making. Ghaul was not chosen. He seized the power. But there's something beyond that.
After his death at our hands, his body lies still; then, it erupts pure Light into the sky.
Out of this beam of Light: a bird.
And this Light-bird, massive, billowing, raging before us morphs into Ghaul, trascended. For a moment, he's as awed and stunned as we are. He looks up at The Traveler.
"Traveler," he bellows, "do you see me now?" I am immortal. A god! You have failed! Witness the dawning of a new age!"
The Traveler, noticing something is amiss, wakes from its slumber and vaporizes him.
So how does Hawthorne fit into this?
Well, there are three Guardians who don't their Light back: The Vangaurd. Ikora, Cayde and Zavala are left without their powers. On the farm, they're forced to collaborate with Hawthorne to strike back. It's in these conversations that a point of contention arises.
Hawthorne was exiled from The City, and dislikes the powers that ran the establishment, Vanguard included. Her existing skepticism of Guardians is lengthened when she encounters them without their powers.
They aren't special. They're just people. Put a gun in their hand and they're indistinguishable from any other foot-soldier. Hawthorne is exceptional though. She's discovered this exceptionalism through training, experience and skill. This is represented in her bird, Louis.
And here, Bungie uses a clever bit of symbolism to dual ends: Representing what makes Hawthorne exceptional and what makes Guardians exceptional.
Remember the dream sequence where we see the Light-Bird? It's followed by a surreal sequence. We walk away from the City in a dramatic exodus, underscored by the amazing music, following an elusive bird. It guides us to Hawthorne.
Hawthorne is always paired with Louis. This isn't just any bird, it's a tracking bird. It helps her scout and stay aware of the enemy. It's a complementary sidekick to her adventures. Just like a Ghost.
First, a Light-bird guides us to the European Dead Zone, then immediately afterward, a real bird guides us to Hawthorne.
The parallel is clear.
Humanity has the Light, and it makes us powerful. That's Destiny's premise. The first game's weakness in telling that story was that it did little to explain what humanity is beyond that Light. Every race and faction had motivation and backstory to explain why they fought against us.
But humanity? We just fought in self-defense. A compelling reason, but not much more.
Destiny 2 rectifies this situation by bringing new depth to this. Humans are exceptional because of our drive for greatness. We strive to perfect our skills. We're individualists in ways our enemies don't demonstrate.
Bungie could never demonstrate this with powerful space wizards; so they opted to do it with Hawthorne.
When faced with Guardians drained of Light, it was Suraya Hawthrorne that kicked into us into action. She understood a crucial element of humanity that we'd forgotten, and by showing to the Guardians, she gave us the power to fight for something greater.
So, what does this tell us about The Light?
Bungie described Destiny 1 as a prequel to Destiny 2, rather than the former as a sequel to the latter. This makes sense.
With Destiny 2, they took the opportunity to retell the story of what makes us Guardians. Each Guardian, like Hawthorne, is an exceptional person, with exceptional skills.
When The Traveler breathed its last breath, and made its sacrifice to revive humanity, it didn't save everyone. Billions died. But every Ghost it birthed was set to find an exceptional individual and deliver a final hope.
Within every Guardian courses the power of The Traveler, yes, but the spirit within us is our own. It's an identity that The Traveler found valiant, heroic, and worth preserving. Every fight is an act of defiance against The Darkness, executed in The Traveler's name, but with our own hands.
We are all worthy because The Traveler found inspiration in us, and saw fit to preserve us.
But Ghaul? The hulking, rapacious war lord? No.
He sought The Traveler's blessing, and in his greed, seized The Traveler's power. But for all his sermonizing to The Speaker, he was never exceptional. He was another Cabal. Another warrior. Another tyrant.
Ghaul could seize The Light, but in the eyes of The Traveler, he was never worth preserving. His final words, uttered in disbelief and awe: "So…you do see me."
The Traveler saw nothing of value.