The Ballad of Shin Malphur and Dredgen Yor
Is Shin Malphur a hero or a villain?
by Jazzy — 2019.09.05
Since the launch of Destiny, there has been a lot of debate relating to what or whom the Speaker is, and what powers he really has. Some in the lore community have made videos presenting evidence to support the theory that the Speaker is a fraud. I am here to say that I disagree in several ways, and here’s why.
First off, this post will cover some Destiny 2 story details concerning dialogue of the Speaker. If you haven’t finished the campaign and don’t want to be spoiled, don’t read on.
There has always been a Speaker, an anonymous high priest with a mysterious and powerful connection to the Traveler and its Ghosts. In all the centuries of the City’s history, the Speaker’s great work has never changed - to guide new Guardians, heal the Traveler, and raise our crippled protector from its slumber.
This card starts our journey and is the description of the Speaker from Vanilla. I have seen a comment from a former writer at Bungie that all Grimoire from Destiny are to be viewed as subjective, and this card is perhaps the best example. It’s clearly written from the Vanguard/City standpoint. But what does it really say? Let’s break it down.
“There has always been a Speaker.” This is supported by the story trailer from Destiny 2 in which we see Zavala awaking for the first time as a Guardian. When Zavala reaches the Last City which then is in its infancy, he comes upon a Speaker standing beneath the Traveler, ghost by his side. So this notion is then supported, there has always been a Speaker. This is also supported by a hidden scan in the new Tower in Destiny 2, where the old Speaker chambers used to be. It says that this wasn’t the first Speaker, and perhaps not the last. So by this, we also understand that there have been multiple Speakers.
To strengthen this further, we have the Osiris card that suggest that Osiris was studying under the Speaker. The best quote around this to me is the Bond of the Exile:
“They who entered the Speaker’s chambers as master and apprentice were bitter rivals when they left.” —Brother Vance
We will return to this rivalry in the end, but I think it’s an important wording here, Master and apprentice. Osiris was likely being trained to become a successor to the current Speaker.
So here we also see an important detail: Osiris, a Guardian, is supposedly being trained to become the next Speaker. The cinematic from the Destiny 2 story trailer also showed a Ghost hovering by his side, so this to me supports the notion that the Speaker is a Guardian. But then, what does the “mysterious and powerful connection” mean that is in the Speaker grimoire card above? I think this is where the subjectivity of the card comes in. The Speaker is to be viewed as a Priest, someone who has great knowledge of the Traveler and, in its silence, speaks for it. This is an important dividing factor for me, because a lot of the critique against the Speaker is that he claims to commune with the Traveler. There is only one quote that could be read that way, and that’s the following idle dialogue from Destiny 1.
“Let me hear your voice. Just one more time.”
All the other dialogue revolves around the Traveler’s voice lingering, and the Speaker wanting to hear its voice. This first dialogue could be read as the Speaker stating that he has heard the voice, but it could also be more metaphorical. The soundtrack of Destiny 2 calls the music for the vision we see in the campaign as the “Traveler’s dream”. It is possible to me that what the Speaker calls a voice could be a similar thing, perhaps even the moment he woke the first time as a Guardian. A voice can be more than just words, because let’s face it, the Traveler does not have a big mouth to speak with.
So what is the purpose of the Speaker? Is he just a priest claiming to speak for a silent god to claim power? Not to me.
The role to me of any priest is to grant spiritual guidance and to teach others the way of their religion. A priest speaks for its god in many religions, but that communication could be a spiritual thing. The priest is, objectively, often someone who has great knowledge about the religion’s teachings and one who believes in the bond between them and their god(s). This is what I believe the Speaker to be, and that role is a very important one in the Destiny universe. He also seems to possess great powers; in Thorn’s original questline he uses Light to cleanse it from corruption and he can also tell us who its Hive Lord is: Xyor the Unwed.
So why does the Speaker do or say the things he does? His motivations are explained in the Speaker grimoire card i listed earlier. One, to guide new Guardians, and two, to heal the Traveler so it can rise from its slumber to speak for itself. He even repeats this in the early Speaker cutscene in Destiny 1 “I am the one who speaks for the Traveler until it can find its voice”. He doesn’t say that the Traveler speaks to him, only that he simply speaks for it. You can question his right to do so, but he does not claim it speaks to him. This is even repeated in Destiny 2 cutscene when Ghaul is pressuring the Speaker to reveal his secrets.
“I speak for it, I never claimed it spoke to me”.
Again, very important. If the Speaker was out to fool people, wouldn’t he simply say: -it speaks to me, but you can’t hear it, because I am special
So then, let’s look as objectively as we can on why the Speaker is such an important figure.
In the dark ages, when Guardians were still just Risen, many of them became enforcers and Warlords. They lacked a sense of purpose, and because of their lack of guidance they either became warriors for others or took control of land with their powers.
But there were Risen who stood against this, who believed in a higher purpose than using their powers for their own gain. Radegast and his Iron Lords defied the Warlords to become protectors of humanity, to use their powers for “good”. One could say he found a higher purpose to fight for.
Fast forward and we have a city beginning to form, with fresh Risen coming in. This is when the Speaker’s role became so important. He, alongside the Iron Lords, gave new Risen a purpose and they became Guardians. They were instilled with a purpose, a meaning for why they had been given the power of Light. They were told why they fight, and the identity of the enemy. The coming time saw Guardians uniting and the city finally could grow into what it is today. The Speaker’s role then, was to make sure that Risen did not use their powers for selfish gain. My theory is that without the guidance and preaching of the Speaker, we would have seen constant war between Risen Warlords and Guardians who chose to protect the Last City. I think that this could have meant that battles we know, Six Fronts and Twilight Gap, when Guardians fought at the brink of defeat to emerge triumphant, could have been defeats. This would have spelled the end for the Last City because there would have been fewer Guardians, and those powerful Guardians could have simply chosen to become their own masters, perhaps even fighting against us.
Also, let’s not forget the citizens of the City. They too need guidance and something to believe in. The Speaker then represents both Guardians and citizens of the last City alike. A unifying figure that Guardians and humanity could follow.
The Speaker has great power when it comes to the ruling of the City and the actions of the Vanguard. This has been pointed out as a possible reason behind the Speaker’s real motives, to become a powerful figure within the governing Consensus of the City. It’s possible sure, but let’s consider the alternative. From as early as the Dark age, the Speaker has guided Risen and refugees in the teaching of the Traveler. Guiding them, helping to give a purpose to reason we are still alive. As the city grew, his role would then increasingly mean more power, because people trust his judgement. It was not uncommon for kings of old to have a tight relationship to the Church, and I do not think the Consensus is an exception.
But at the later point of the City age, people began to question his teachings. When the Darkness was growing stronger, people became sceptical of one who claimed to speak for a God that just hung silently in the air. Instead, people turned their fate to Guardians who were out there fighting. The Speaker was questioned because there was no action from the Traveler, only from Guardians. But the Speaker has never changed his stance, never sought to regain his power. His preaching has been the same, Guardians are weapons of the Light and our objective must be to heal the Traveler to protect us when the Darkness returns to the City. And with the ending of Destiny 2 in mind, was he right?
So let’s return to Osiris. Osiris left the City after being an apprentice to the Speaker. The Cult of Osiris does not like the Speaker, calls him a charlatan and a fraud. What really happened between these powerful Guardians is unknown, but it’s believed that their divide came in the ultimate focus of their studies. Osiris believed that in order to beat the Darkness, you had to study it. The study of the Darkness, one that Osiris shared with Toland, is a dangerous field. Yor is a good example of the pull of corruption, and while I do believe that the banishment of both Toland and Osiris is questionable, I can see the reasoning. The danger of Risen turning violent or choosing to become their own masters is a frightening one. Imagine just one Guardian deciding to take his anger out on citizens of the City. It would take more Guardians to stop him. I think it’s with this fear, that Osiris would become Speaker only to focus on the Darkness instead, that we find the motivation for the banishments. The Speaker feared that practices like the ones of Toland and Osiris would turn more Guardians away from the protection of the City, and potentially towards corruption. Personally, I think that a good leader shouldn’t simply ban something controversial but instead find a way to make it coexist, but I can see the we can reasoning behind trying to protect something so fragile. I think this is where see a hint of desperation in the Speaker’s actions. More and more, Guardians start to focus on other tasks besides following the recommendations of the Vanguard and Speaker, and this could split them along different ideologies. It might seem that it’s the Speakers pride that is on the line, but I theorize that it’s a deeper problem than that.
Your quest split Guardians along ideological lines. This was your greatest crime: Hunters chose to pursue your visions instead of protecting refugees, Titans assembled teams to chase the legendary Vault of Glass instead of striking the Fallen, and Warlocks turned away from the study of the Traveler in favor of your ultimate obsession… learning the exact nature of the Darkness.
When debate became argument, and argument became acrimony, I realized you had already become a cult of personality, attracting Guardians who wanted a clear idea of why they were fighting, what they faced, and how they would ultimately win.
This then really shows what the Speaker feared. Other leaders like Lysander and the Concordat, and even the Faction aligning had proven that Guardians rally to ideas, and the potential danger in that conflict. In a time when Guardians needed to unite, there was a looming danger of the ranks being split apart.
So, putting his motivations aside, now let’s focus on the missions the Speaker has sent us on. During Vanilla, we follow the guidance of the Exo Stranger to stop the Heart of the Black Garden that is draining the Traveler of its Light. During this entire campaign, we see the Speaker supporting this.
“The Ishtar Collective studied the Vex with all the instruments and power of the Golden Age. And we must understand the Vex if we are to survive. There are tales of the Black Garden and the Darkness that lives at its heart. If this is where the Vex are born, then finding it is of the utmost importance.” - The Speaker
The optional Chamber of Night mission has us stopping a Hive ritual that is draining the Traveler of its Light.
The Speaker is working towards awakening the Traveler, healing it. The Speaker guides us through the vanilla campaign, ensuring that we become weapons of the Light in the battle against the Darkness.
Destiny 2’s campaign seems to end with the Speaker missing in action, presumed dead. But his work, his ultimate goal, has just been achieved. The Traveler is awake. It can now speak for itself. This calls into question whether there is still need for another Speaker. Even the Speaker himself has dialogues in Destiny 1 in which he comments on the dwindling number of supporters for the cause, and how people are looking to Guardians instead of the Traveler. Perhaps then, we no longer need someone to speak for someone who can speak for itself. Perhaps the time of the Speaker is at an end, the Traveler finding its voice again.
But there is also a great need for someone who deeply understands the Traveler in a time when it’s awake. Someone who understands its workings, if it is possible to understand them at all.
There are several candidates, Guardian. Which one would you follow? Or is simply the Traveler enough to follow?