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Character Analysis: Ashley Williams

Posted on the 06 February 2013 by Findthebluekey @FindTheBlueKey
Character Analysis: Ashley WilliamsMight be going a little old-school for this one, folks.
I've recently decided to take a step backwards and begin the Mass Effect trilogy anew, having only ever completed one playthrough of each game as they came out. I felt like such a series deserved more attention and exploration, and was willing to bet that I could discover a new level of depth that I didn't see before. The world and the characters are what brought me back to this game, and so far, it has proven to be entirely worthwhile.
But that brings me to the topic of this post, the characters. More specifically one character, Ashley Williams, one of the principle recurring characters and love interests for a male Shepard. Ashley is a character who I feel gets a bad rap all too often, though I do understand where that camp is coming from. But regardless, I wanted to take some time to dig in to her character from my perspective, and see if we can talk about some of the common issues people have with her at the same time.
Ashley Williams has always been a very polarizing character for just about every Mass Effect player I've ever spoken to; people either love her or hate her. Few players ever feel indifference towards her, which I feel makes her a great character, despite any personal feelings you might have.
A character that can elicit both reactions clearly has a well formed persona and personality. Characters that inspire indifference are most often non-characters. Think of Jacob from Mass Effect 2. Few people have strong feelings about him one way or another, he was simply there. He merely existed, and as such was one of the least memorable parts of that game. In fact, I had to strain for a moment to even remember what his name was.
Characters that force a strong reaction, whether it's negative or positive, always have a great deal to add to the story. But only if you are willing to immerse yourself in the world.
Character Analysis: Ashley WilliamsThe very first scene where we meet Ashley provides a great deal of insight about her character. We find her on Eden Prime, alone, outnumbered, but still fighting. Just from this brief sequence, we can gather that she is self-sufficient, strong, and can keep a cool head in high stress situations. Beyond, we can see a dedication to her duty by her willingness to continue on, even after enduring both physical and mental trauma.
Having just lost her entire unit, Ashley soldiers on. There is a job to do. Only later does she allow herself to think on it.
Ashley certainly has her flaws, that much goes without question. She is naturally mistrustful and somewhat abrasive. She seems prejudiced against alien species, and she doesn't give second chances easily. But what I like about all of this is that they are very understandable flaws. She is flawed in a very realistic, relatable way.
She is following in a long line of military service, a tradition in her family, but also a burden. She has been fighting her families reputation her entire career, a reputation gained during the First Contact War with the Turians. She was an exemplary recruit, deserving of higher rank, but her family reputation has seen her shunted sideways constantly. Having to fight for everything she has received, being mistrustful and abrasive seems to be a natural defense mechanism.
I've always found Ashley to be a very realistic and well crafted character. A no-nonsense, strong, career military woman, who speaks her mind when it comes to her beliefs. Her beliefs, it's clear to see, are formed by her experience and that of her family.
Character Analysis: Ashley WilliamsHer brief appearance in Mass Effect 2 is a point where Ashley takes a lot of fire. Mostly it comes from the fact that Ashley no longer trusts Shepard(romance or not), even though people such as Garrus and Tali do. But really, what reason does she have to trust him?
She has spent the last two years believing he is dead, perhaps grieving over a lost love, only to find him alive on Horizon, as if nothing has changed(seriously, Shepard's dialog in this seen needed some work). That would cause enough confusing emotions right at the beginning, but now he's also working for what you believe to be a terrorist organization? Of course she would be worried that Shepard has changed, that he's not the same as he was, that she doesn't know him anymore.
In all honesty, her reaction could have been far, far worse and still have been understandable.
Character Analysis: Ashley WilliamsIn Mass Effect 3, I will agree that the initial story could have been done better. It did feel like the whole Cerberus-mistrust feeling was restarting, rather than continuing on from where it left off. That being said, once Ashley rejoined your crew, the interactions improve significantly in quality. The opportunities for interaction are fairly light, but that is more of an issue with the game as a whole, as character interaction got a bit slim as the game went on. But if Ashley was your love interest, as she was for me, the scenes with Shepard are well written and impactful. The relationship has an air of maturity, and of two people facing the reality that they care for eachother, but risk losing one another at any moment.
Overall, I find Ashley to be a remarkably strong and well written character, flawed in a very human and understandable way. Though she doesn't contribute as much to the lore of the world as someone like Liara, or have as varied and diverse a backstory as Tali, Ashley remains an anchor. A character to ground you in reality, some small reminder that these are just people, backed up against a threat they never expected.

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