The Undead Settlement is admittedly pretty mundane. Compared to many other part of Dark Souls III, (DS3) a town of Undead is nothing new. In fact, I assume that most recognize the obvious allusion to the Undead Burg, another town of immortals found at the foot of a much larger and more powerful country. However, where the settlement differs from the castle town explored in the original Dark Souls (DS1) is the context which it developed in. This Undead society has very much been shaped by the state of the world after the two previous titles, leading to some unique characteristics that set it apart from either the massive stone metropolis built for the firelinking or your generic peasant village. On top of that, FromSoftware uses this opportunity to expand upon themes of religious fanaticism and anarchy from mob rule that were present but only barely echoed in past games, all through the lens of a small town society. The end result is elevating a pretty bog-standard concept through the nuance of the setting, making it an excellent marker for what has changed since Dark Souls II (DS2) and thus worth exploring in full.
Needy and Helpless
Greirat describes the Undead Settlement as a “dirty” town that isn’t the homeland of a Lord of Cinder we seek, existing there since long ago. This implies that it predates such lands stagnating around Lothric, and its exact origins can be inferred from its location at the mouth of the kingdom’s main bridge. Various carriages carrying Undead from Lothric to the town seem to have been derailed by the recent seismic activity wrecking the causeway, causing Hollows to escape their confines and beg for entrance. We can thus presume that the Undead Settlement has been around for almost as long as Lothric, ever since the country had Undead to exile. But rather than be banished to some other land, Lothric is apparently content with their cursed immortals setting up a community just outside. This community lives in abject poverty, from the ramshackle hovels they call homes to the meager shirts on their backs. Despite visitors such as foreign dignitaries assuredly passing through town on their way to the capital, none would do business with cursed Undead, so the population endlessly grows without an economy to sustain it.
This fact is exemplified by Flynn’s Ring found in town. In DS2, Flynn had earned a reputation as a gizoku (義賊) or “chivalrous thief” in the vein of Robin Hood, using the power of wind imbued in his ring to never be caught by even the strongest of men despite his tiny and thus physically weak size. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that he is still extolled as such in DS3, considered a hero to the small and poor. But these same people know it to be a “pipe dream”, and the localization’s description of it as an “idyllic fable” have led many to assume that Flynn himself either wasn’t as chivalrous as remembered or didn’t even exist. However, the idea that it is an empty dream to believe in a hero to meager men like themselves actually implies that they recognize such a character has not and will not come robbing the rich on their behalf. A thief with a righteous heart delivering you specifically from poverty? That is wishful thinking. Moreover, Flynn was a hero to the poor, not Undead. No one at the Undead Settlement expects charity for their unholy existence.
Ring of Flynn, who is extolled as a chivalrous thief. Boosts attack power the lower the equipment weight.
Flynn, who is said to have fought with the power of wind assisting him, is a hero of small, poor people. And they know it is a pipe dream.
Because of this, the populace have resorted to doing dirty jobs to get by. Most of the Undead citizens dress in the garbs of morticians as part of their living preparing and burying the dead. For that purpose, they are armed with mallets, blades, and other utensils used for their dissection of Undead in preparation for burial. This comes with the implication that the townsfolk also put down any of their own who succumb to madness as Hollows, which is an expected hazard for any Undead society. And indeed, we can see certain homes boarded up in apparent attempt to contain outbreaks of hollowing. Other residents wield pitchforks or great scythes indicative of peasants who farm for food or shovel hay for the stables where horses or livestock had been kept. These duties are done at the behest of Lothric considering the number of slaves assisting them in town — likely why the city even tolerates having a hive of Undead at its doorstep when mass hollowing could pose a problem. In this way, the populace can be considered public servants.
That being the case, there are castes even among the poor. The Hollow manservants are, as the name suggests, Undead underworkers. Dressed in red hooded overcoats similar to the Undead slave knights, these burly men often carry planks of wood on their backs. This is because they are the townsfolks’ designated heavy-duty laborers who are “forced” into performing menial work for the citizens according to descriptions of their cut equipment set. The town has suffered from the recent rise of the High Wall, so the manservants are likely responsible for the various makeshift renovations adapting to the splits in the earth, such as the Dilapidated Bridge. What their work entails goes beyond transporting heavy materials though. Their belts carry keys and whips — the former for the places they need to go, the latter for the beasts of burden they need to work. Each manservant is also armed with a great machete used for lopping off limbs, presumably as part of the town’s dissections. Some also carry pots filled with body parts from likely those same dissections. They are clearly expected to take part in dirty work as much as hard labor due to their physique, further stratifying society.
Hood worn by manservants that squirm in the Undead Town.
They are manservants who are forced to do menial work for the citizens of the Undead Town, but their superhuman strength is far beyond that of ordinary men, and it is said to be uncontrollable once they go berserk.
Death to Undeath
Among the more affluent residents of the Undead town was a Way of White clergyman dressed in blue robes indicative of his Undead status. His corpse being in front of a small shack in the middle of the local graveyard implies that he lived there as the local pastor rather than among the clergymen traveling to Lothric as part of their mission. There is a church on the far end of town, and we are given no reason to believe that the citizens were anything but god-fearing people. In fact, their piety seems to have been influenced in part by their work. The clothes they wear is a ceremonial uniform for said work — specifically a “secret ceremony” according to the description for the cut Bloodied Short Sword used by some citizens At the very least, these funerary practices are a tradition that’s purpose has long been forgotten thanks to the horrors involved, presumably by the broader public rather than the Undead morticians regularly performing them. Still, we can observe that said practices are rooted in the townsfolk’s fear of the Dark and revulsion toward the Undead curse.
In order to preserve the bodies before burial, the Undead Settlement uses a charcoal-like black pine resin as part of the embalming process following dissection. This Charcoal Pine Resin easily sparks fires, which we use to set our weapons ablaze. But what purpose does flammable turpentine really serve? It certainly isn’t effective in preserving the body if the array of fleshless skeletons found in the town’s deepest graveyard is any indication. But its goal may not have been to preserve the flesh, but the state of the body itself. The aforementioned skeletons carry Human Pine Resin — charcoal turpentine rotted by human fluids, specifically fluids derived from the Dark within man. According to its Japanese description, this corruption occurs after many years have passed, making the turpentine a rare commodity. It also implies that the resin is being applied directly to areas where these Dark fluids are present or being produced. In other words, the turpentine’s purpose is to help protect the body from the Dark. Considering the very real threat of the Pus of Man for Undead, these god-fearing townsfolk have every reason to be concerned. In fact, this well-founded paranoia about the Darksign’s curse seems to have made them suspicious of curses in general.
Thing which was charcoal turpentine that rotted due to juices of man.
Temporarily enhances right-hand weapon with Dark.
Used for preservation and burial at the Undead Town, there are times that it becomes like so after many months and years have passed. That rare thing is apparently also used in a certain kind of ceremony and often traded at a high price.
The Curse-Rotted Greatwood is called a “spirit tree” or shinju, (神樹) trees which are in some away associated with the divine — typically located on consecrated ground or housing the spirit of a god. Indeed, we can see that the townsfolk revere it from their bows and praises while in its presence, and the description for the cut Hammer of the Great Tree reaffirms that it is an object of worship as well. The only question is why this specific tree. Based on just its size, this god tree has been around for quite a long time, so many years in fact that it is become a “distant memory” according to the cut weapon text. Moreover, it does seem to have taken root on sacred ground. The tree has grown in an open courtyard for a huge stone complex. We can see a procession led by a Cathedral of the Deep evangelist heading from the direction of the local church to the entrance of this building where they make their post. Therefore, this stone complex more than likely serves as a kind of shrine for the land, and there is the connection.
Hammer made using the trunk of a great tree that lived for so many months and years it has become a distant memory.
The age-old tree is said to possess a will and considered an object of worship for the people of the Undead Town.
It possesses a high density and strength that seems unlikely for something wooden and boasts might that never loses to a metal weapon.
According to the description for the tree’s soul, “every” curse has drifted to the town since long ago. Aside from the obvious Undead, it is true that all traffic going to and from Lothric must pass through the Undead Settlement. And this drifting isn’t only limited to the local spatial drifts, as there are plenty of foreign items which have ended up there. Among the town’s corpses, we can acquire Flynn’s Ring originally found in the underground kingdom of Shulva in DS2, a Chloranthy Ring so old that it has supposedly lost its green coloring, the ornate armor of the cold north’s brawny warriors, and Lucatiel’s mask and traveling clothes. The latter’s descriptions make a point of the woman entrusting a friend with memory of her name before hollowing — an obvious reference to the Bearer of the Curse — so it is unlikely that the Lucatiel had joined the community. Likewise, Greirat sells various items from DS2, including the Bandit’s Knife once used by Forossan brigands, the Kite Shield previously employed by Drangleic, the unique iron helm once worn by the conman Pate, and the Mirrah antler shield formerly acquired from Benhart.
Greatsword said to have been continually swung by a masked knight. The memory of the fear engraved in the Hollows’ minds.
Has an especially high effect against Hollows.
It is said that it was once bestowed to a legitimate knight, and shows a unique sword technique with both hands.
All of these foreign items likely ordinarily drifted to town over time, so it is no surprise that cursed persons and things were among them. In fact, them ending up there may have been inevitable. Curses are generally not considered positive in decent societies, rightly feared due to the severity of their effects. In that case, wouldn’t most cultures simply pass around whatever cursed object they come across, trying to get rid of it? But if every culture refuses to take in a curse, where does it ultimately go? Why, to the Undead Settlement — the one place where cursed things can find a home. But not even accursed Undead would want these items, the worst of which are sealed in that one tree on sacred ground, which ties directly to its location.
Beneath the shrine is the Pit of Hollows, with various wooden platforms and support columns installed to help citizens scale up and down the hole. The pile of bagged corpses and cages at the back seem to be dumped there by manservants, one of whom can transport us to the pit before we are able to access it conventionally. And among the bones for the Mound-makers’ shrine down there are what appear to be human corpses, plants sprouting between earthy breaks in their stone “skin”. Townsfolk have already been suffering from the metaphysical petrification and dendrofication — apparently lazing around town awaiting the world’s stagnation to take them — as have the local skeletons buried in the old crypt. But based on the depth of the pit and the statuesque bodies’ current condition, these are the earliest residents, buried before the town developed its current burial practices. Because they weren’t properly dissected, their rotting flesh had ample opportunity to petrify and dendrofy.
If the location is the town’s oldest burial ground, then it is only natural for a shrine to have been built over it; it is hallowed ground. The entire goal of the settlement’s ritual burials has been to purify Undead so as to prevent them from manifesting these unusual symptoms. Statues of a man desperately attempting to contain the Pus of Man reaffirms the purpose of the shrine to suppress the outgrowths of undeath. The townsfolk are desperate to keep the Dark of their Darksigns at bay, and are willing to believe that they can by simply stuffing any cursed thing they come across into a tree on holy ground. Unfortunately for them, these curses have gradually transformed their sacred tree into its own accursed being.
The “curse-bellied great tree” (呪腹の大樹) is embedded with unnatural white ball-shaped sacks at various parts of the body. And after falling down to the Pit of Hollows, the tree’s trunk splits open at the front to reveal more of these fleshy growths tangled together within its belly along with an equally sickly white arm. Each of these orbs are presumably an individual curse being circulated around its entire body, resulting in it producing corrosive fluid. Even the fruit it bears has this same fluid and similar arms, seeds for more cursed trees. This corrupted nature is why the boss is internally named “cursed colossus” (呪われた巨像) and explains its sudden violent outburst against us and the townsfolk should we intrude the area.
This corruption naturally originates from the tree’s core, its soul being a similar tangle of sickly green souls interspersed among what is left of the original. In effect, we aren’t battling the tree but the curses it carries. This is reinforced by the fact that we cannot damage the actual tree, whose bark is explicitly harder than metal in the cut hammer’s description, only the white growths manifesting from the curses within. Among the items bearing cursed souls is the Hollowslayer Greatsword, which has gained that power thanks to memories of Lucatiel’s fear of hollowing retained by remnants of her soul left. Not all of the curses stored in the tree necessarily carried souls, such as the Transposing Kiln made from stitching together the husks of crystal lizards, but many clearly did.
It does seem extreme for the townsfolk to reflexively reject anything cursed, but that is just how passionately they despise their own undeath. Much like the Undead cultures in DS1, this town of cursed monsters simply wish to be forgiven for their sinful state and die as humans. This is demonstrated by the statue of Velka found in town, which we can use to forgive our sins or reverse hollowing. The Goddess of Sin has commonly been the patron deity of Undead nations, and the Undead Settlement certainly wants to heal the curse. The statue is specifically found in a damp graveyard accessed from the town’s underground sewer system. This is unusual since the vast majority of the dead are buried in graves above ground. And why build a crypt adjacent to your sewer and potentially soil the graves? This suggests that the crypt dates back to an earlier point in the settlement’s history before the sewer and the modern town were built, hence why this cemetery no longer receives visitors. It also implies that the town’s awareness and thereby worship of the Anor Londo pantheon traces back to fairly early on.
The Undead Settlement’s piety is very much intertwined with its fear, its citizens’ entire lives revolving around staving off the curse until they find salvation. But between the inevitability of hollowing and eternally combating the random rampages of Humanity, it is to be expected that some might lapse in their moral standards. We can find some Human Pine Resin in a chest in what looks to be a library and reading room, suggesting that at least some citizens were curious enough to inquire about the unholy substances that they combated. Such inquiries may be innocent on their face, but it is almost too common for such curiosities to result in embracing the Dark. Indeed, fallen to the Dark or no, some have definitely taken to the idea of eating life.
Helmet of Hodrick, holy knight of the Country of Nightfall.
The golden helmet that took the name of its sunset color is now faded and concealed with filthy, worn-out cloth, and that form is known as a ghost of the battlefield.
As a mad spirit that swoops down upon both friend and foe alike.
The so-called madwoman nesting in a cave along the Road of Sacrifices — named Isabella in Japanese guides — was once a resident of the Undead town. Based on her worker’s hat, she had served as one of its morticians specifically, leaving grisly implications for the human flesh she sampled. Regardless, once Isabella had a taste, she couldn’t stop enjoying her taboo meals, which is reflected in her Butcher’s Knife restoring HP with each cut of flesh — the sharper the blade, the more savoring the meal revitalizes the soul. To fellow residents, madness must be the only explanation for her committing such terrible acts. But from the armor and weapons on corpses in her lair, we can conclude that she has been hunting local brigands. These “mountain bandits” (山賊) aren’t out of place in this rocky region, and we can even encounter such highwaymen in the forest, either foreign thieves exiled without even being Undead or dishonorable knights who deserted as their order collapsed in battle before themselves dying in disgrace.
Isabella’s choice of prey seems to be out of pure necessity rather than preference, however, as she is stated to no longer be a resident of the Undead Settlement. She is fending for herself in the wild with nothing but her carving knife; not even an Estus Flask, at least a full one. And seeing the tattered state of her clothes and the dung she can throw at us, it is not an easy living out there. Isabella’s character is an obvious reference to Maneater Mildred from DS1, so she too was most likely banished from decent society for her crimes. This is peculiar given that we can find an execution platform for hanging as well as a small jailhouse in front of the town’s church. Even assuming the former is merely a recent addition, the community still had the ability to lock up one of their own and punish them with death. Perhaps like the curses that came to town, deviant behavior was something for the community to seal away rather than tempt fate trying to destroy. Or perhaps it was feasting on just corpse flesh that saved her from the chopping block. Either way, this policy of mercy evidently didn’t last.
Radicalize the Flock
As mentioned earlier, we see evangelists from the Cathedral of the Deep leading the Undead. These kyoudoushi (教導師) are women who act as “faith gurus”, or preachers, that enlighten the residents of the town with their teachings, not necessarily converting nonbelievers as the word “evangelist” can bring to mind. The townsfolk are already pious laymen afraid of the burgeoning Dark denying them death suddenly devouring them at any given moment. They were happy to have spiritual guidance from clergy of any sort. And when those clergywomen bring with them soul-laden skulls as gifts of charity, it is no mystery how they have endeared themselves to so many of the town’s soul-starved residents. It probably helped that the women are Undead themselves. Although they don’t look it, the evangelists are affected by the Hollowslayer Greatsword the same as the other Undead in the settlement. The evangelists can certainly empathize with the citizens’ plight despite their very different backgrounds and circumstances. But the townsfolk should still have asked about where they got those skulls.
Although fire has proven effective at combating the pus of man, the evangelists light their hands ablaze before embracing us in order to “cleanse the bastard’s curse”. Even as they might beckon us into their arms while calling us a “poor child”, the fact remains that these women are trying to burn us alive. As the description for the cut Missionary’s Axe so plainly elucidates, the salvation they preach is death. This is demonstrated best by one preacher leading a prayer before a pyre in the town square; its fuel, a bunch of corpses in body bags piled against the tree at the center. This is a crude fundamentalist’s approach, but as can be seen from the number of Undead in attendance, such extremism holds sway among the citizenry. With how many have suffered because of their curse, there was bound to be a fair number willing to embrace the evangelists’ suicidal teachings. And once they did, there was no limit to what these radicalized men would do.
Axe possessed by the missionaries who endeavor to proselytize at various places such as the Undead Town.
To them, salvation is death, and those who go against their teachings are bisected with this axe.
When we approach the Undead Settlement, we see the stranded Hollows begging for entrance be met with rabid dogs coming out of the front gate, sicced on by a resident worker. This isn’t the first time either since we can find several more dogs already feasting on corpses by the carriages. Apparently, the townsfolk no longer welcome outsiders. And as we explore the actual town, we find that countless bodies have been caged, strung up, or tied to wooden posts and displayed as an example. Some of those caged Hollows are still alive, but the vast majority seem to have been captured and killed or left to die. And considering the handful of what look to be torture tables found around town, many had suffered beforehand. This is reinforced by a whip we can acquire off a corpse there as well as the public execution platform set up in another part of town. There has evidently been some civil conflict in the Undead Settlement as of late, though it seems to have been mostly resolved by the time we come to town. And this infighting was most assuredly spearheaded by the evangelists.
The preachers carry various torture implements on their belts, and among the town’s corpses we find the uniform of Undead clerics, the Red Hilted Halberd known as the weapon of clergymen, and a Red and White Shield blessed with holy magic. This suggests that all of the resident clergymen have been killed in this dispute, leaving only the visiting preachers. For a settlement characterized by its religious fervor, this seems incredibly unlikely unless the townsfolk were incited by said preachers. More than likely, the evangelists led an inquisition, pitching a mob of extremists swayed by their teachings against the rest of the town. Anyone deemed a threat was subsequently purged, whether it be the stability of their Humanity or their devotion to the faith that was in doubt. Laymen, clergy, nonbelievers, all of them would be judged in this witch hunt. Naturally, they were forced to defend themselves from the mob violence even though the extremists ultimately won out. If the pyre in the town square is anything to go by, they are being made sacrifices to cleanse the Dark.
Ratty Old Man
With how impoverished the Undead Settlement is compared to Lothric, it is understandable that the town has developed a seedy underworld. Human Pine Resin is often sold for a high price due to its rarity as well as use in a “certain kind of ceremony”, which immediately raises an eyebrow. There will always be those willing engage in shady business transactions, but what about the rest without access to clients or merchandise? By all implications, many Undead have snuck into the city to rob it of valuables. Some have even attempted to infiltrate Lothric Castle, but they are never seen again, earning the castle a reputation for “eating people” that keeps would-be thieves away out of sheer fear. These attempts predate Lothric falling into chaos, so it has unsurprisingly always been dangerous to try stealing from the royal government. Nonetheless, this implies that these thieves have found some success stealing from the city, and the most successful of them all is supposedly an old man by the name of Greirat.
According to the thief in question, he is a robber with the skill to have once earned fame at least within his circle. Patches reaffirms that the geezer is no novice, though finding him in jail proves that he isn’t uncatchable either. There may be a reason for that. Despite downplaying himself as shabby and greedy like any other thief, the description for his ashes states that he possesses the “worthless pride” of a chivalrous thief. In other words, he was the Robin Hood that the townsfolk doubt exists — an old man who truly believes in honor among thieves, helping his fellow man, paying back his debts, and comradery; possibly because he was once a soldier if his crumbling armor is any indication. It is because he is of such virtuous character that he once helped Patches break out of jail, which may explain why he got caught and thrown in that same jail by the time we warp to the High Wall. But being the only thief in town who seems to have this moral fiber, “worthless” is indeed an apt description. For all his pride, Greirat is, true to his name, an old rat who scurries in the dirty underbelly nibbling on what scraps he can; his community, no better off.
Ashen remains of Greirat of the Undead Town. The handmaid of the ritual place will make use of the new items.
Greirat was a thief but possessed the worthless pride of a chivalrous thief. That is probably why he climbed the high wall.
Perhaps the biggest slap in the face to his gentility concerns Loretta. In exchange for him selling us his merchandise at Firelink Shrine, he asks us to hand over a Blue Tearstone Ring — presumably stolen — to a woman of the Undead Settlement. He admits that it is a shabby request brought on by a guilty conscience, highlighting his humility and sense of honor, but it seems to be much more than that. After showing him a bone that we found off a corpse, he concludes that she is dead and thanks us for confirming his own suspicions. This implies that Greirat had set out to climb the High Wall as things in town were already starting to get dangerous with the extremists. And yet, he did so due to his chivalric spirit, which is why he feels the need to deliver lucrative merchandise to one of the poor back home even if not willing or able to do it himself. However, the thief can be seen keeled over in silence when we first leave and return to Firelink Shrine, apparently mourning Loretta’s passing. This is not the reaction one affords to a random stranger.
The only clue about Lorretta’s identity is Greirat calling her an old woman and the bone that she is found gripping tightly in her cold, dead hands. Its description leaves no doubt that the body found strung up from one of the buildings is actually Loretta. And based on its age, she has held onto it for a while, so it must belong to someone very close to her if she is willing to clutch it tight even when facing death. A loved one, perhaps? The bone is noted to be completely discolored and bearing holes, but this may be the result of exposure to the elements and human meddling after death. However, we may still be able to infer the owner’s identity. When killed during our first encounter, Greirat apologizes to “Dear” in English and “Mom” in Japanese. Kaa-chan (かあちゃん) is a very affectionate if casual address for a mother, though it can also be used to address one’s wife who so happens to be a mother. Either might apply to a old woman like Loretta.
If Greirat and Loretta were a married couple who had at least one child, then the bone the old woman cherishes may belong to their child. The Undead Settlement was ultimately a stable community of Undead from mostly Lothric. Most friends and family who happen to turn Undead would be sent to the same place where they could reunite. At the same time, anyone who never met prior for whatever reason would have ample opportunity to foster relations in their new home. Therefore, it is completely possible for there to be an old married couple, though the notion of them having a child hints to their relationship predating their undeath. Perhaps their child died young during their lifetimes before age caught up to them, at which point the Undead curse denied them a chance to join their child in death. Whatever the case, this scenario would certainly explain Greirat’s guilt for leaving her and sorrow over her demise. She was the one thing tying him to that town. Who does he live for now? What purpose does his life still serve? The answer was apparently contributing to our unkindled mission.
Following her death, Greirat offers to go on a heist to the Undead Settlement, citing that we are better off using it since everyone there is now dead or hollowed. The one person he cared about in that town is gone, so he has no reason to hesitate about stealing from his longtime homeland. And after his great success, he later offers to steal from the nobles of Irithyll once we find our way there ourselves. Should he survive this second heist, he decides to raise the stakes even higher by offering to take on Lothric Castle. For all his bragging, even he acknowledges the danger he was in trying to infiltrate Irithyll, and will die in the attempt. He must be aware that his talents won’t save him from this suicide mission. Why is he so ready to throw himself into the jaws of the beast? According to him, because we are his friend and he doesn’t want to die as that worthless miser of a thief. He couldn’t do anything for his town, he couldn’t do anything for Loretta, and certainly couldn’t do anything for himself.