Mass Effect 3 Writers Toyed With The Idea Of Curing Thane, But A Codex Entry Made It Very Difficult

“The measure of an individual can be difficult to discern by actions alone. Take you, for instance. All this destruction… chaos. I was curious to see how far you’d go to find me. Well, here I am.”

Shortly after what many people believe to be the greatest character introduction in the Mass Effect series, drell assassin Thane Krios informs you that he is, in fact, dying. He has an incurable disease known as Kepral’s Syndrome, which, based on the codex in Mass Effect 2, causes a drell’s lungs to become overwhelmed by the moisture of Kahje, the hanar homeland they have resided in since their own arid world was destroyed.

Ultimately, however, it was not necessarily Kepral’s that killed Thane – instead, it was the fact that Kepral’s had been written in such a way that the sheer legwork involved in reversing the damage inadvertently done in Mass Effect 2 was beyond impractical.

“We kicked around ideas for a cure for Thane in early concepting, but Kepral’s Syndrome was described in Mass Effect 2 as really, really, bogusly incurable,” Thane writer Chris Hepler explains. “The only ones with tech that might cure him would be the Reapers, and so we had some rough ideas that maybe Cerberus or someone would try to lure Shep into a trap with the promise of a cure. But it never panned out.

“So Mac Walters and I eventually concluded that Thane wasn’t going to make it. Shepard could kill just about anything that walks, but ultimately, Thane would serve as a reminder that you can’t beat mortality itself. The issue got slightly muddied because of Kai Leng stabbing him, but it’s a combination of his wound and Kepral’s Syndrome that kills him – all the medi-gel in the world can’t clear his lungs.”

This doesn’t necessarily mean that Thane almost survived, mind, or that there was an early build where he made it. It just confirms that the Mass Effect 3 writing team examined the possibilities of keeping him alive – there were just too many drawbacks. Based on what was said above – that “maybe Cerberus or someone would try to lure Shep into a trap with the promise of a cure” – entire additional missions would have needed to be designed for Mass Effect 3. Obviously, this isn’t plausible for any project with targets for budget and deadline.

So, what was it in Mass Effect 2 that put the team in this position? “Basically, the codex and Thane’s dialogue in ME2 say that there is no cure, even with the high tech available to Citadel races like gene therapy,” Hepler explains. “So any cure would have to be a serious breakthrough. Thus, maybe the Reapers might know how to cure it, but they aren’t telling.

“So we explored that possibility, but eventually concluded that we could write a better story about loss than we could about Shepard taking time out from saving the galaxy to save one person. We wanted to keep the tension high.

“I don’t know if I’d use the word ‘impossible’ to cure, because writers can retcon in a lot if they really try – I mean, omni-tools aren’t supposed to make diamonds and bulletproof armor, either, and in Mass Effect 3 I violated that a little bit by saying it can create silicon carbide, which is used in some ballistic armor today.”

All of the above makes sense. As someone who first played Mass Effect 3 at 16, and who loved Thane more than most other characters I’d encountered in fiction, I’ve always been curious about why he had to die. I can understand the trajectory much clearer now, nine years later, after having spoken to Thane’s writer about it. I also find it refreshing that the team genuinely explored the alternative possibility of keeping him alive – it just wasn’t worth it, for multiple reasons.

Still, Thane’s death in the main game made quite a lot of people incredibly sad. When BioWare was gearing up to work on the Citadel DLC, Hepler decided that he was going to address this by doing something meaningful for Thane, and something meaningful for the players who cared for him.

“I was happier with [Thane’s death] once we wrote the Citadel DLC and gave everyone a chance to mourn,” Hepler says. “Without that, it always felt a bit incomplete, because your companions on the Normandy didn’t react to his death much. So when the time came for the Citadel DLC, I aimed to let them have *all* the feels. That amount of time devoted to one character’s death is pretty rare in video games.

“I mean, falling in love with someone who’s dying is about as personal as it gets. But he warned you in Mass Effect 2…”

Despite that warning, though, people always seemed to hope for some deus ex machina that would allow our favourite drell assassin to live out the rest of his days Kepral’s free. Similarly to how the incurable nature of the disease is mentioned in Mass Effect 2, Thane discloses that the hanar are currently hard at work on devising a cure, although he doesn’t expect to see it in his lifetime. And so, it made sense to have that little bit of hope – something that was further accentuated by Thane’s admission that, although he once had no reason to live, now he has two: Shepard and Kolyat.

Ultimately, though, the preexisting codex entries and dialogue for Thane were too explicit to ignore, and retconning something like that – coupled with the sheer amount of work said retcon would require – just wasn’t feasible. And so, despite entertaining the idea of saving Thane, BioWare had to make the difficult decision to let him go.

On Thane’s final moments, Hepler had the following to say:

“Some video games make people cry, but I wanted to have a scene that allowed them to grieve.

“Someone once asked me if Thane loved Shepard more than he loved his wife. I had to thread a fine needle and say that while you might not have been the longest love of his life, you were his last love, and that had to count for something.”

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Cian Maher is the Lead Features Editor at TheGamer. He’s also had work published in The Guardian, The Washington Post, The Verge, Vice, Wired, and more. You can find him on Twitter @cianmaher0.

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