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Pitch Practice – Dark Souls TV Series

So a new series of blog posts I’m going to do from time to time is where I pitch an idea, just one on the top of my head, and lay out what I think is awesome about it. Whether or not I’d ever expect the idea to take flight or garner interest is something else altogether, just consider this practice. Today I’m going to put an idea I’ve ruminated on for some time, the basic plot structure for a TV series based on the Dark Souls video games.

For those who don’t know, Dark Souls is a game series directed by Hidetaka Miyazaki. Critically acclaimed, the series is known for its lauded difficulty, in a world where triple A game titles walk you through them to a point where they are outright holding your hand, Dark Souls challenges the player creating a much more rewarding experience.

Another challenging aspect of Dark Souls, which lures fans in, is the game’s cryptic lore. Told through item descriptions and vague NPC chatter, the story behind the world of Dark Souls is fantastically deep with lots of hidden clues. In a world where television shows tend to be dramatic by just being violent or bludgeoning you with narrative I think the subtle artistic aspect to Dark Souls lore would be perfect to carry into a tv show.

This will probably come off like nerdy fanfiction, but the point of this is just to show I have a basic premise to work with. I am not a lore expert by any means, so conflicting lore issues are generally not the biggest concern for me, instead just having the outline correct.

The Loglines

In the broken and dangerous world of Drangleic two chosen undead must complete a quest to fix their world before they lose the last of their humanity. The quest: choose to light the first flame of the world to continue an age of fire ruled by gods or allow the it to die, bringing about an age of darkness ruled by man.

Background

For those of you unfamiliar with Dark Souls here is the basic story of the game. In this fantasy world set in a medieval setting the world was created as grey and ashen and was ruled by immortal dragons. Then change was introduced in the form of the first flame, from within the darkness of this flame humanity arose. Three humans found great power within the first flame called Lord Souls and took it for themselves, becoming the world’s first lords (or gods). They were: Nito – Lord of Death, Gwyn – Lord of Sunlight and the Witch of Izalith – Lord of Chaos. A fourth Lord Soul was found by a being known only as a furitive pygmy, it was a special Dark Soul with power the pygmy kept hidden from the other Lords.

The three Lords learned of the dragon’s weakness from one of their own who had betrayed them, and used this knowledge to strip the dragons of their immortal scales and destroy them. A new age had begun, the Age of Fire, and the Lords ruled the land bringing about peace amongst the humans. However eventually the first flame began to fade, and with it the powers granted to the Lords. Threatened with destruction, Gwyn committed what is referred to as the “first sin” by linking his own essence to the first flame to keep it burning for another era, but doing so causes humans to start becoming afflicted with a darksign – the beginning of the undead curse. Now each time the fire fades, the undead curse spreads further eventually finding itself a chosen undead who is persistent enough to collect of the old Lords power to relink the flame as Gwyn once did. Even if there is an age of darkness due to the chosen undead refusing to link the flame, the curse continues to spread and become worse until eventually a chosen undead rises that usurps enough power to link the flame and start another age of fire. While there are presumably many ages of fire and ages of darkness to a point where kingdoms from eras of peace are forgotten altogether, it is only clear at this point that the world is stuck in this cycle of fire and dark.

Set between the events of Dark Souls II and Dark Souls III, this series takes a look at the adventures of two chosen undead as they explore the land of Drangleic in search of the power that can grant them access to the first flame. Much like the game, a brunt of the story takes place with the help of supporting characters – humans, other undead, mystical beings like dragons and even gods – who share struggles ultimately culminating in the first flame’s fate. Even though our protaganists can die, they are functionally immortal due to the undead curse which resurrects them at bonfires spread throughout the land – but with every death the chosen undead loses a little of their humanity and sanity. Much of the world is now overrun with “hollows”, those undead who finally lost all sense of self and are only violent empty shells. As it pertains to the storytelling of the series a more important element of the curse is that death and resurrection has another effect – the world in which these characters inhabit is broken in both time and space, and as they die and resurrect the characters shift between realities constantly becoming separated from one another.

Several characters will directly return from the game series itself (characters such as the Emerald Herald, Patches, Darkstalker Kaathe, Kirk the Knight of Thorns and Gwyndolin), however many new characters introduced specifically for the show will be analogues to existing Dark Souls characters or potentially “reincarnations” if you choose to see it that way (there will definitely be a knight of Astora similar to Solaire, a knight of Catarina similar to Siegward/Siegmeyer, and a crossbreed dragon/human similar to Company Captain Yorshka or Crossbreed Priscilla).

Plot Synopsis

The most important element to this story is that it takes place with two primary main characters afflicted with the undead curse, one male the other female who do not have any definitive background or story. I have not given these characters names and I’m not convinced they need them as of yet, the less that is told about key story elements like this the more it retains the original storytelling mystique of the game series. In fact in the plot summary I’m going to just refer to them as the “Male Undead” and “Female Undead” for now. These characters are basically blank slates who react to the things they find in Drangleic in ways that establish their personality types, neither being definitively good or evil but eventually coming at odds to one another. They both meet the same set of characters but besides for a few key moments they will have little direct interaction with one another.

In general the first episode of the series will introduce the world and these two characters, with each one having very similar experiences (albeit both characters will in most cases be completely separated from the other) in almost a deja vu like manner. It will be revealed that the Emerald Herald drew them both to an undead settlement and even though she appears as she did originally in Dark Souls II she makes it clear she is nearing the end of her life. The characters learn the basic backstory to the world of Dark Souls while arriving at the shrine. The Emerald Herald has spent the last years of her life building a shrine to the bonfires – explained as embers of the first flame – which is being tended to by a shrine handmaiden and the last cursed members who are townspeople and workers who find menial labor as their willpower to stop from becoming completely hollow (which teaches the viewer about how hollowing and the curse works). These characters work on the shrine but the Male Undead attempts to speak to them the and Emerald Herald stops him, insisting that any stoppage from the work could lead to them going completely hollow. When the Female Undead arrives to the shrine the events play out nearly identically, she meets the Emerald Herald also – in fact the scenes can be told in parallel – however there will be some subtle differences in her experience, such as the builders being mostly gone (I forsee an overhead shot entering the shrine of workers, with the Male Undead’s scene being busy and then panning to the Female Undead’s entrance with a substantially more thin population of workers).

As the story progresses, we see the Male and Female Undead meet the cast of supporting characters who serve as a backdrop to tell fun/interesting stories focused on human nature, creating a lot of standalone episodes. The first destination for both undead is an asylum of undead, where they find a Knight of Catarina wearing the classic onion-shaped armor who is stuck at a drawbridge with a fierce drake at the other end. The Catarina Knight is helped by both undead in slightly different ways to solve the problem – the Male Undead solves the problem for the Catarina Knight and the Female Undead cooperates with him, encouraging him to help in the solution – and each gain a bit of the Catarina Knight’s respect (albeit for different reasons). Their next stop is to ring the Bell of Awakening and at the base of the church they both meet a Knight of Astora, I envision this being a female character who says her father was a great warrior of sunlight whose footsteps she is following in now that she has found herself now bearing the undead curse. This insinuates she is the daughter of the Dark Souls character Solaire, and she is met wearing his iconic armor and shield and sharing his boisterous persona. This character will introduce the soapstones which allows the undead characters to find each other via a summoning sign, which will be an important mechanic to understand what is going on down the line in the story. The Knight of Astora joins the Male Undead to ring the bell, and helps him fend off vicious gargoyles, whereas the Female Undead also has the Knight of Astora’s help however she has to use a soapstone summon sign to find her help.

Again I reiterate that the male and Female Undead’s journeys meet the same characters in a criss-crossing fashion, often both being in similar situations, but each story is completely separate. It is almost as if they are both in slightly different dimensions. In the first 5-6 episodes we see quite a few phantom images of other characters who especially appear clearer as the undead characters sit by the bonfires they encounter. Through deduction as the story swaps between scenes with the Male and Female Undead, the viewer should begin to notice events from one person’s “world” are being echoed in another via these phantoms, and that some characters only appear in one world or another as a summoned phantom via the soapstones.

In the fourth episode, both undead meet Patches, a trickster who lures them both into a trap. The Male Undead finds a clever solution to the trap which enables his escape, whereas in the Female Undead’s world she finds a method to brute force her escape, finding and beating Patches into submission. When cornered by both undead Patches offers them information, which convinces them to go separate ways to proceed on their journey exploring different areas to seek more power to find the first flame in the upcoming episodes.

The rest of the episodes are not set in stone but I have an outline as to how the story progresses for the two protagonists which I’ll outline below as well as how the plot for the first season resolves.

Story of the Male Undead

The Male Undead explores his path through the world and after traversing a toxic swamp he meets the Flame God Flann – one member of a distant royal family, seeking to find his own solution to the problems of the first flame – who convinces the Male Undead that it simply requires the right person to link the flame to end the undead curse. Flann is trying to find the research of a “scholar of the first sin” to learn more about the cycles of fire and dark, to find a better solution outside of merely linking or failing to link the flame. The Male Undead comes into conflict with a hunter of humanity (the Dark Souls red invading phantoms) Kirk the Knight of Thorns who kills undead over and over again to harvest their energy from their remaining humanity. It is established that Kirk uses an artifact called a Red Eye Orb to invade sources of humanity as a red phantom. It is later shown he does this to feed a young deformed girl with the human soul energy he acquires. At first this invader seems like an adversary, but the Male Undead finds out through the course of his adventure that Kirk is only feeding her this energy because she is the one of the last in the line of the Daughters of Chaos and she needs it to survive, which are descendants from the original Witch of Izalith. Lore fans of the series know The Witch of Izalith used her Lord Soul to try to recreate the first flame, but instead created a powerful horde of demons.

After the Male Undead allies with a Carthus warrior to venture into a demon ruins the Male Undead learns how to manipulate humanity from his own essence using the magic of pyromancy. The two dig deep into the ruins and find a tamed Stray Demon, and the Male Undead learns of the true nature of the relationship the Daughter of Chaos with Kirk from this demon. As it turns out, the demons of this ruin were enslaved by a legion of soldiers from a powerful nearby settlement, and despite their imposing size and power they are in a poor condition. The next time Kirk attacks the Male Undead coaxes a piece of his own soul using his newfound skills of pyromancy and gives Kirk this energy voluntarily. Kirk then takes the Male Undead to the young Daughter of Chaos out of respect and although she is sickly she shows the Male Undead how to create life with the human soul energy, however teaching him this technique causes her to die. Kirk departs, only being seen again in the Female Undead’s world as a hollowed warrior. After all this the Male Undead’s willpower to see his quest to its end is the only thing keeping him from going hollow and the advancement of hollowing is beginning to show in his exposed flesh as he becomes more thin and pale, decayed. Knowing he is almost ready to find the first flame, he is informed he simply needs more power to gain access, being told the only place to potentially find this energy is in the original land of the Lords, Anor Londo.

Story of the Female Undead

Then there is the quest of the Female Undead, which takes her to a citadel in a remote colony where she meets a royal family. These new rulers were the ones who established the undead asylum as a place to put hollowing undead to keep them safe from their mostly human population, a suggestion of their chief advisor. It is evident though that something is amiss, a creeping darkness seems to plague the community. Between this and the curse causing substantial groups of the population to go hollow the human settlement is starting to fall into disarray. The Female Undead journeys to a nearby township of the colony which is being plagued by dark forces and finds a giant grey wolf who fends off the Darkness. At first the giant Wolf attacks the Female Undead, but when she injures her right arm in the battle and the Wolf realizes she is not tainted by the darkness it befriends her. The giant Wolf is showing visible signs of aging and has an emaciated leg, but being giant and powerful the Wolf helps her continue her adventure into the darkness to find where to go next.

While exploring the chasms of darkness the dark beings who reside therein keep a distance from the Wolf or more importantly a silver pendant that hangs around the Wolf’s neck, allowing the Female Undead passage deeper into the chasm. At a distance she finds the royal advisor treading the depths as well and follows, staying hidden. He eventually notices her, confronts her and reveals himself to be a Darkwraith warrior. After defeating him, she finds what he was protecting, the lair of the Primordial Serpent Kaathe. Kaathe welcomes the Female Undead and explains to her how to fix the world – by collecting the power of all the Lords including the lost power of her “progenitor” (the furitive pygmy), which will allow her to become a Dark Lord and stop all those who would seek to kindle the flame. He says the darksign of the undead curse is what allows her to collect this power, and that she must find a way to acquire energy from the Dark Soul itself. If she does this all that remains to become the Dark Lord is to head to the land of the Lords, Anor Londo, to find the remaining power needed.

Kaathe says the Wolf knows the way to the power of the Dark Soul, giving her the Ashen Mist Heart which he explains is an artifact which will let her revisit the memory of those of history to find the Dark Soul energy that she needs. The Wolf somewhat understands what is being asked of him (the Wolf does not speak) and it leads the Female Undead to a graveyard deep in the nearby forest. Not far from a towering grave is a smaller one, where the Ashen Mist Heart resonates and allows the Female Undead to traverse into a dream world of the past, which is really the ancient memory of the Chosen One – the true Abyss Walker. Taking the Abyss Walker’s place in this memory the Female Undead finds Manus, Lord of the Abyss and defeats him.

Acquiring power from the Dark Soul during this challenge the Female Undead returns to her time, but when she tries to leave Wolf steps in front of her. Sensing the power of the Darkness, the Wolf turns on the Female Undead. Despite being old and wounded the giant Wolf takes the Female Undead off guard, his pendant weakening her until an errant blow rips the rope that keeps the pendant around his neck. She ultimately dies in the struggle, after inflicting further wounds the old Wolf. She wakes at a nearby bonfire with the dark energy from the memory still acquired and she chooses not to find the old Wolf again, heading next to Anor Londo.

Supporting Cast

As mentioned before while all this happens the supporting cast of characters sort of criss cross between the Male Undead’s world and the Female Undead’s world. Supporting character story arcs follow up like this:

The Knight of Catarina (analogue to the game’s Sieward/Siegmeyer) is always found in need of aid, and we come to realize that while he is a bit lazy and unmotivated what keeps him going is the need to feel important. The Male Undead settles the Knight of Catarina’s problem for him but realizes he made a mistake near the end, allowing the Knight of Catarina to fight (and die) on his behalf – the Knight of Catarina of course will resurrect at a nearby bonfire having died with his sense of pride intact. The Female Undead however believes in cooperation and teamwork and refuses to let him fight a battle for her and while she is well meaning this leads the Knight of Catarina ultimately to lose confidence, later resulting in him becoming hollow.

The Knight of Astora (presumably the daughter of the game’s knight Solaire) appears at pivotal moments to both adventurers, sometimes via the soapstone and sometimes in person. This character gives the person background and information on what is going on, expressing optimism and it is clear she is on the same quest as the undead (perhaps in her own reality). Using the power of the soapstone the Male Undead helps her achieve her goals, she reveals she is looking for a lost warrior, whereas while trying to help the Female Undead find her way out of the Abyss (where the Female Undead met Kaathe) the Knight of Astora is assaulted by frog beasts which expel a noxious gas causing her to become petrified. I haven’t decided where else to show her these are after all just basic ideas, but I do believe she would be a great character to use going into a second season plot.

Patches the thief will also make several returns to the story, reprising his role as trickster and all around uncouth person. I haven’t decided on any particular story to tell with him, but something about his ego and personality is what keeps him from going hollow and he knows this so he embraces it. In fact he calls his spirit “unbreakable”. Another point I’d add is that while it is generally considered that he lied to each undead when he told them in their first encounter to go each way to seek power, this is not necessarily the case.

Lastly the halfbreed dragon (analogue to the game series characters Priscilla/Yorksha) meets both undead at different points in their journey and convinces them they should work as agents for the Darkmoon Blades. Both undead conscript to the cause, the Male Undead believing Gwyndolin intends to help make him a worthy undead to link the fire (it is later found out this is a deceipt as Gwyndolin is in fact collecting power from as many as he can, killing any undead with strong humanity to absorb more power) and the Female Undead joins with the intent to betray the covenant, knowing that Gwyndolin has the power needed for her to become the Dark Lord. This returns us back to the main plot. A plot point viewers should deduce here is that the syncing between the character’s realities always happens at points of death/resurrection, the Male and Female Undead soon get separated after she dies (the Blades discover her treachery and assassinate her).

The Final Story Arc

Depending on how many episodes the series is greenlit for, the next series of events can either be strung together as a conclusion to the first season or can be segmented by supporting cast stories with the first part being a mid-season break and the second part being the season finale. Either way the story continues with both undead reaching Anor Londo, intent on betraying the Darkmoon Blades and killing Gwyndolin.

Despite the difficulty to get this far in their journies the undead both discover Gwyndolin’s antechamber is guarded by the elite warriors of Gwyn’s old guard. While their names are forgotten they are known only as the Dragonslayer and the Royal Executioner (those who know the game’s lore immediately recognize these two to be the infamous Ornstein and Smough). Both undead initially are unable to defeat the duo of the Dragonslayer and Executioner and the Female Undead who feels she is out of options, lays down her soapstone to offer assistance to others who might seek it and simply waits. The Male Undead sees her summon sign, and brings her back into sync with his world as a phantom. Together they defeat the Dragonslayer and Executioner allowing the Male Undead to meet Gwyndolin in his antechamber. As she returns to her plane of existence she finds herself alone still having to face the challenge of the Dragonslayer and Executioner who still live in her realm and continue to guard the antechamber. From here we skip ahead to each undead meeting Gwyndolin – the Male Undead making his way directly as he defeated his Dragonslayer/Executioner, whereas the Female Undead comes in a little later the fight having happened off-camera – she now carries the lightning spear that the Dragonslayer was seen holding before, however her face is decrepit and you can see she is slowly becoming more hollow. It is insinuated by this that after many attempts she managed to defeat the duo on her own, however this is a future plot point to explore in perhaps a second season.

This finally culminates with Gwyndolin falling to both undead, and they each having the power to access the Kiln of the First Flame, to decide the fate of the world. Before approaching the First Flame, they meet the Emerald Herald again. She explains that she was created to cure the curse but she knew when she was born that her sight, which lets her see the future, shows her that she simply cannot cure the curse. She encourages the Male Undead to link the flame. When she talks to the Female Undead the Emerald Herald is found out to have gouged out her own eyes. She says she gave up her sight to find the cure to the curse and now has it, she tells the Female Undead to touch the darkness within her to cure the darksign making the Female Undead mortal again (I will still refer to her as the “Female Undead” just to keep consistent but she is now no longer cursed). The now mortal Female Undead, still in possession of the power of the Lords, still wants to attempt to confront the challenge inside the Kiln to try to become the Dark Lord despite knowing the risk of failure is a death that is final.

Inside the Kiln, an Unknown Warrior paces around the site of the first flame, warding away any trespassers. The intention is for him to resemble Lord Gwyn from the series, but perhaps to be a little unique as this is not the same character. In the final exposition of the Emerald Herald prior to this fight, she explains that corpses all surrounding the flame are from those who linked it in the past and were defeated, this last warrior being the most recent one to link the flame. In battle the Male Undead defeats the Unknown Warrior using his pyromancy abilities and battle prowess. The Female Undead also defeats the Unknown Warrior in a fairly long and drawn out duel that exhausts all her remaining endurance, coming very close to being killed in the process.

As both undead approach the bonfire that is the First Flame, they see phantoms of the other (in past scenes phantom images become clearer when in proximity to a bonfire so their proximity to the first flame brings them into a very clear face to face confrontation). Unable to speak we see the Female Undead expresses dismay at the Male Undead, almost as if she is yelling at him to stop as she can see him potentially lighting the flame. A subplot to the story I did not mention is that in a previous episode when it was revealed that Kirk the Knight of Thorns went hollow it was in the Female Undead’s reality, and on defeating his hollow form she finds the Red Eye Orb. The Red Eye Orb senses strong sources of humanity beyond the dimensional barriers and begins to act erratic in the Female Undead’s hands, and she uses the orb to invade the Male Undead’s world as a red phantom. On arrival she puts forth a fevered argument over the merits of linking the flame, explaining that she wants to become a Dark Lord as a way to end the cycle and hopefully the curse.

She ultimately loses the fight, which brings her back to her own world (dying as a phantom is not the same as physical death, so even though she is mortal she is not yet “dead” from losing this fight). The Male Undead links the flame and tries to create life but fails, and immediately becomes consumed by the fire. The Female Undead walks away from the flame in intense thought about the situation, and as she looks at the corpses she sees the Unknown Warrior that she fought slain before her. Looking down at him, she sees the crest on his shield which is the same crest she saw with the Male Undead.

While contemplating this she walks past the Emerald Herald, who is blind but hears her, and speaks to her. The Herald tells the Female Undead that the only person who linked the flame who was not undead was Gwyn, and that having cured herself of the curse she might now have a different future if she tries to link the flame. She after all still has the power of Lords from her journey. The Female Undead returns to the first flame and as she puts her hand out to link the fire it consumers her but in a different way. The fire bursts out of her body splitting her into two distinct people, then from that second person flames reach out to all the corpses in sight of the first flame. These bodies stand up, including the Unknown Warrior and perhaps even one resembling the original body of Gwyn. They surround the Female Undead, whose body is now ashen. They let her walk away her sanity intact, giving her a new form of power as her skin cracks with molten fire and the old linkers of the flame begin to merge with her doppleganger at the site of the flame. She is now officially the world’s first Lord of Cinder, and with this the Emerald Herald dies.

The viewer is essentially told nothing during this but one thing that the viewer should extrapolate from the scenes is that this story happens over a large period of time with a lot of shifting in time, and that the Male Undead and Female Undead both exist in two distinct eras (with the Male Undead’s era occurring first). The resurrected characters, summoned phantoms and invaders are the consequence of the curse shifting people in and out of time and space with the help of soapstones to provide different ways to cross that barrier. The one period of time when both undead were in the same reality was merely the consequence of the death/resurrection cycles moving them through time deliberately, this moving them back towards a more consistent time with each death. With this all established, a new era begins.

Prospects for future series lie in the true events of conflict of the Dragonslayer/Executioner and the Female Undead (the Female Undead does defeat the Dragonslayer after killing the Executioner but before she can kill him the Knight of Astora interjects and convinces the Dragonslayer to stand down and leave Anor Londo with her – causing him to throw down his lightning spear that we later see the Female Undead use for the remainder of the series), exploring the consequences of the Lord of Cinder linking the flame and what it means for those with the curse, the story of the rising pilgrims and their quest to restore balance to the world, as well as more game lore elements.

Conclusion

Okay this is a lot of back and forth but I just wanted to lay out what I think would make a great skeletal outline (good job skeleton!) for what could be an honest/interesting interpretation of the Dark Souls video game on the tv screen. What did you think? Did any of this make sense whatsoever or was is just jumbled fanfiction? Feel free to hit me up on Facebook with your 2 cents. Thanks for reading!

Next for Practice Pitch: A video game idea of my own that I’d create were I independently wealthy and willing to learn game coding!

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