۲۳ اردیبهشت ۱۴۰۰/
توسط امیررضا دواری
In Defense of Iosefka
a Bloodborne lore essay
To analyze the lore of a game like Bloodborne requires a varied skill-set. One might describe it as part detective, part researcher, and part archaeologist. But the true mindset required to successfully tease the secrets of Yharnam, the Great Ones, and the Healing Church from the details provided is that of the conspiracy theorist. One must be prepared to reach out and find connections between seemingly unrelated facts, to recognize links, to correlate bits and pieces from item descriptions, from enemy behavior, from NPC dialogue, from in-game events, and from the scenery and artwork of the game as is moved through. A lore student’s diagrams and flowcharts can easily come to resemble the wall of a conspiracy student.
Fortunately for us, we are so many Fox Mulders, for the “conspiracy” we trace is set not in the real world but in a wholly crafted environment, one where the story has been painstakingly laid out in bits and pieces for us to tease out. These hints are ambiguous and fragmentary, and this is not an accident. As game director Hidetaka Miyazaki himself stated, “I like reading about how gamers interpret or think about the story and world of my games. So I don’t want to rob them of that space for open interpretation.”  This is only natural in a game-setting deliberately drawing inspiration from the Cthulhu Mythos of H.P. Lovecraft and his followers, which is by no means categorized, itemized, and made specific in any way, but is a mass of contradictory lore told by unreliable and often insane narrators.
Recently, however, a new theory has begun to circulate in the lore community, one which I find unpalatable in my personal encounters with the game. While this interpretation is certainly a possible one, given the wide-open nature of the game story, I feel that an opposing viewpoint must be presented. Accusations of heinous crimes have been made, and persons accused are entitled to a defense.
I speak, of course, of Iosefka.
We meet Iosefka in-game in Central Yharnam. Indeed, it is in “Iosefka’s Clinic” that our player character first awakes to their nightmare of blood and beasts to begin the game. While on that first visit no one is present but a predatory Scourge Beast, not even the Blood Minister that was treating us in the opening cinematics, upon visiting the Hunter’s Dream and returning to the clinic we find ourselves unable to enter the room in which we awoke. Instead, the door to that room is closed. Upon knocking, we are answered by a female voice. Iosefka makes it clear that she cannot open the door to us on the night of the hunt, for fear that the contagion will reach her patients. Instead, she offers us “Iosefka’s Blood Vial,” the most potent healing item in the game. Moreover, while we can only carry one such vial, she is more than willing to let us have more if we run out. If we return often enough to her, then she even expresses warm feelings towards us, and a hope to get to meet us and see what we look like when the night is over.
All this changes when we defeat Father Gascoigne and proceed to Oedon Chapel, advancing the time of day from afternoon to evening. Returning once more to Iosefka’s Clinic will reveal that Iosefka has apparently had a change of heart. Rather than keeping her door locked at all costs, she instead encourages us to bring human survivors to her, in the hope of treating, even perhaps curing them of any hints of the beast plague. Moreover, she even offers a reward, and will indeed provide us with items if we send any of the NPCs to safety in her clinic.
Curious players may wonder as to the reasons for Iosefka’s sudden, welcoming attitude. They may wonder more later on in the game, when it is possible to find a secret back entrance to the clinic. From the Forbidden Woods, beyond a cave filled with a parasite-infested poisonous pond, a pair of long ladders leads up, the lower ladder through hollowed-out crevices in the earth and the upper through what appears to be a man-made shaft. This opens up into a small cemetery in Central Yharnam. Pulling a switch will open a gate back into the clinic courtyard, but it is an already-open gate that beckons a different path out of the graveyard. It leads to the back yard of the clinic, and thence by a ladder up to the roof, from which we can enter through a back window.
Inside the clinic, we find a picture very different than we would have anticipated from the kindly, welcoming doctor. Inside the various rooms we discover at least one Small Celestial Emissary, small blue alien-like creatures; indeed, there will be exactly one more Emissary than the number of patients we have sent there. In one room we find the corpse of an Emissary laid out on a metal table, an Emissary whose left hand is still human, mute testimony to what has happened in this place.
Further on, we encounter Iosefka herself, who freely confesses that she has been experimenting on the patients we’ve sent to her. Brazenly, she suggests that things need not change, and we can still send her survivors and test subjects…and that if we do not agree, she’s “always wanted to try her hand on a hunter.” If we walk out and do indeed send her more patients, her experiments will continue, and her rewards will become greater as she gleefully talks about her research and the great discoveries she hopes to make. More righteous-minded players can confront Iosefka, finding her at last to be a blonde woman clad in the garb of a White Church doctor, wielding the Threaded Cane and Repeating Pistol, hurling Numbing Mists and even calling upon the Augur of Ebrietas. Or, after the Blood Moon rises, she can be found, gleeful even as she writhes in the grip of some transformation herself, and can be killed to obtain One Third of an Umbilical Cord.
Thus ended the tale of Iosefka, revealed to be not the sweet innocent we thought her to be, but rather a mad doctor in the classic Gothic style, right down to her end coming in much the same fashion as she dealt with others, caught up in her own transformation. Her garb and armaments as well as the Oedon Writhe rune she drops directly link her to the Healing Church, no surprise given its known involvement in shady researches. It is a classic tale, and offers clues to what we will find later in-game in Yahar’gul and the Upper Cathedral Ward.
However, there were idiosyncrasies, things that rang false in that story, and clever players began to pick up on them at once. Sharp-eared players noted that Iosefka’s voice from evening and onward sounded different from when we’d spoken to her in the afternoon. There is a small crack in the clinic door, and if the camera is angled correctly it is possible to notice that afternoon Iosefka has an empty right hand, but evening Iosefka has taken up her cane, ready to protect herself if, perhaps, the door is forced. And then there is that one extra Celestial Emissary, the one that appears even if we send no one to the clinic…an Emissary that drops a Iosefka’s Blood Vial when killed. In the end credits could be found a “Impostor Doctor” listed among the cast. Publication of the official guide confirmed what many players had already concluded: that as evening settled, an impostor entered the clinic, captured Iosefka, used her as the first subject of her experiments, and pretended to be there for the rest of the game. The story was infinitely more grim than we had realized: rather than our trust being betrayed by Iosefka, the betrayer had in fact first destroyed the innocent woman we had come to know, perhaps were even beginning to care for.
At least, this was how it seemed…
The question has subsequently arisen as to the true nature of Iosefka, her clinic, and the activities carried on there. In his seminal essay on the lore of Bloodborne, “The Paleblood Hunt,”  Redgrave suggests that in fact the true Iosefka was involved in unspeakable research very similar, perhaps even identical, to that carried on by the Impostor. Aegon of Astora discusses the same possibility in his “Let’s Talk Lore” series of videos, as does Jerks Sans Frontieres in his “Bloodborne Up Close” series. Each of these individuals has their own personal take, their own personal interpretation of the lore, but makes the same fundamental assertion: that Iosefka is not the kindly doctor victimized by the mad scientist-esque Impostor, but someone who herself has been engaged in shady experimentation on the so-called “patients” at her clinic.
The Cause for Defense
The evidence presented by this theory is suggestive, at the very least. Like most examination of Bloodborne lore it is in part speculative, but it is by no means drawn from thin air (indeed, if it was, there would be no point to this essay!). But in that event, why argue the point? Why spring to Iosefka’s defense?
Simply put, because I do not like the theory. It isn’t that I don’t see the possibility; I merely find that it makes no sense from a narrative perspective—as a matter of storytelling. This seems to be a classic case of looking at the game lore with too close an eye, a failure to see the forest for the trees. By looking at minutiae and then working outwards from them, the theory of Iosefka’s crimes results in the existence of a narrative which makes no sense. Each previous step in the narrative, each discovery laid out for the player to find, evolves the story further. Originally we have the clinic, the doctor who wants to be helpful but is unwilling to take a risk. But aha! As time passes, she proves willing to change her mind and open her doors to shelter new patients. But wait! In point of fact, she has proven to be a classic Gothic mad doctor in the mold of Frankenstein, Moreau, and Jekyll, showing us the ugliness behind the facade of sane normalcy. But then! It is revealed that in fact an evil impostor has replaced the good doctor, that it is not a matter of secret evil behind a sweet face but of murder and the tragic death of an innocent, helpful soul, another of the painful losses that afflict Yharnam much as happens, elsewhere in the game, to Father Gascoigne and his family.
If Iosefka is herself involved in unnatural research into the Celestials, even turning people into Emissaries, then there is no point to Impostor Iosefka’s existence. The story, as it is, becomes exactly the same as it would have been if Iosefka had simply been one person all along, or (from the player’s perspective) if we had never spoken to the original Iosefka and only met the impostor during our playthrough: superficial good concealing secret evil. Having one evil mad doctor murdered and replaced by a second evil mad doctor who looks identical and assumes the first one’s identity, when we have no emotional investment in or background for either one, is a pointless complexity. Iosefka’s innocence is inherent to the tragedy of her transformation and possible death. Revealing Iosefka to be as cruel as her impostor reduces the conflict to one akin to one mobster murdering another, a matter not likely to excite anyone’s interest outside of those directly involved. Would Fromsoft deliberately add a layer of complexity to the questline which serves only to undo the previous layer? It seems unlikely, for this is poor storytelling, and Bloodborne (and the Souls games that are its spiritual predecessors) may be known for deliberately obscure storytelling, but not for merely bad narratives.
However, identifying the proposed story of Iosefka as being unsatisfying is not in and of itself an objection to the theory. After all, what one person finds flat and boring another may find compelling and meaningful; artistic impressions can be nothing but intensely personal. Even more so, mere aesthetic opposition cannot stand as a denial to objective truth. I could, for example, protest until I was blue in the face that the sky would look much better if it were green, because blue is as ridiculous a color for skies as it is for faces, yet even if millions of people agreed with me it would not change the atmosphere and the laws of physics governing light and how we perceive it. The supposedly unsinkable Titanic sinking on its maiden voyage would be sneered at as cliched by the readers of fiction today, but that would make no difference to those people who lost their lives.
Appeals to art will not save Iosefka’s reputation. They only provide motivation to reexamine the facts, and to see if those facts can also be shown in a different, more palatable light. Has Iosefka been convicted beyond a reasonable doubt? Only an examination of the facts will show this.
In the footnotes to this essay I have pointed out the written and video sources referenced above as constituting the “prosecution” of Iosefka’s case. I would recommend anyone interested who has not already done so to read and view them personally (not the least because each is an excellent and interesting work, but also because the best way to articulate the arguments I am attempting to counter is to watch those arguments first-hand. But I shall attempt to summarize the points of evidence here, and I hope that anyone who believes that I may be misconstruing or omitting any significant point will take the time to correct me:
1. Iosefka, like her impostor, appears garbed in the White Church set, clothing associated with the Healing Church, all of whose branches are known to be involved in a variety of experimental activities connected with the Eldritch Truth of the Great Ones. The description of the White Church Attire reveals that those who wear it “believe that medicine is not a means of treatment but rather a method for research.” When one wears the uniform of unethical researchers, one must be prepared to be numbered among them.
2. The discovery of the back way into the clinic area raises several questions about the activities taking place there. Leaving aside the fact that there is a cemetery located adjacent to the clinic, the shaft itself reveals evidence of further misdeeds. The lower part of the shaft appears to pass through either natural caves or dug-out nooks, which are liberally strewn with skeletons. The upper section is similarly decorated, with skeletons sprawled across boards, laying on ledges, and generally providing evidence that something wrong is happening here. Has the shaft been used for the disposal of bodies? And who are these bodies, anyway? Where did they all come from? Were they, perhaps, failed test subjects?
3. Another question about the shaft to the woods is, where did it come from in the first place? Yharnam was not built in a day, and that shaft was not built overnight, as it shows signs of proper construction work: stonework, wooden ledges, and other, similar structural improvements that do not match up with the idea of a roughly dug hole. Its existence, connecting the clinic to the poisonous cave beneath the Forbidden Woods, raises distinct questions about the clinic’s purpose. Would there be such a connection for a simple clinic? It seems unlikely.
4. A further line of inquiry focuses on the Small Celestial Emissaries found in the Forbidden Woods. The Emissaries can be found in only three areas in the waking world: Iosefka’s Clinic, the Forbidden Woods, and the Upper Cathedral Ward (including areas of the Grand Cathedral). The Emissaries seem to be directly connected to the Great One Ebrietas, who was discovered by the Healing Church; their presence in the Isz chalice dungeons helps to support the connection that is suggested by their both being Kin and their physical proximity to one another in the Cathedral. The question arises, therefore, as to where the Emissaries in the Forbidden Woods come from? Well, the Forbidden Woods are quite some distance from the Cathedral Ward, but they are directly linked to Iosefka’s Clinic. Could they have escaped from there? It’s speculative, but there seems to be no natural explanation for their presence, and the clinic is the closest place where other Emissaries have been found. It is speculated that they could have gotten loose when Impostor Iosefka entered the clinic, fleeing through the window that we later enter by. It seems unlikely that they could have been early experiments of the Impostor, because we find every single “known” person (except the nameless Blood Minister from the opening cinematics, who might be accounted for by being the dead mostly-transformed Emissary on the operating table) sent to the clinic present and accounted for. Indeed, they wander around freely without showing any signs of either hostility or fear. All evidence therefore suggests that the impostor’s Emissaries are not inclined to flee, so if those found in the woods did indeed come from the clinic, then it would seem that they were there beforehand, perhaps even accidentally let free when the impostor broke in to take over.
5. One final point was raised by Aegon of Astora, and while he himself points out that it’s likely of little weight, he notes that early on in the game’s life cycle, when there was a glitch that allowed players to get past the fence and into Iosefka’s Clinic early, before the impostor took over. Players exploring the clinic would find that the interior was identical to when it was found later in the game—including the partly-transformed Celestial Emissary, present even though the impostor was not yet present and experimenting. Of course, this was only accessible via a glitch that was later patched out, but even so, it’s there.
Each of these points of evidence must be examined and weighed. Do they point towards the conclusion that Iosefka is involved with unnatural, unethical research? Are there other explanations, and are those explanations believable? These are the questions that we must ask.
I shall begin with the final point raised, which is simultaneously the strongest and the weakest point of evidence. Strongest, because if there is a mostly-transformed Celestial Emissary in the clinic prior to the impostor replacing Iosefka it is proof positive that there were experiments in transforming humans going on under Iosefka’s management. Weakest, because it’s accessible only by exploiting a gameplay glitch, and one which, moreover, does not exist.
It is at this point that I must conclude to dismiss this point of evidence. This is not revelation; this is merely the game code being broken. At some point, it’s necessary to acknowledge the medium: that we are playing a game, and that sometimes the nature of that allows the player access to information that would not be present in a different medium. This is most significant in the area of “cut content”; text, sound, and graphic files left unused by the game are almost like looking at an author’s notes and previous drafts of a book, giving access to the creators’ thought processes and showing things that may have been developed as part of the world background, then left out of the final narrative for reasons that might be artistic or might just deal with the production costs. This leaves us wondering, is a particular piece of cut content a valid part of the lore that was left on the cutting room floor only because there wasn’t room or budget enough to include it, or was it instead a draft idea about which the creators said, “no, we don’t like this; we don’t want it to be part of the game”?
In this case, though, the situation is much more direct. The clinic design isn’t cut content; rather it’s existing content that was just accessed out of order. It’s the equivalent of watching a movie by shuffling the chapter tracks. It wasn’t meant to be accessed before nightfall in the game’s timeline, a full time period after Impostor Iosefka had taken over, and it was only by way of a coding error that it was possible to do so. Fromsoft took direct steps to confirm this fact by patching the glitch out and making it impossible to get to the clinic early: they had a narrative in mind and did not want the players getting ahead of themselves.
Given this, that we know Fromsoft did not want us to see the interior of the clinic before the Impostor we took over, we are left with a question: do we believe that the programmers would spend time, money, and effort to create a clinic interior which it is impossible for the player to see, only to swap it out later in the game for one the player can see, solely to maintain internal consistency from their point of view? I think it is highly unlikely that game programmers would waste their time on something that’s not even supposed to exist in the game, not unless it was originally going to be used and then later removed. Without evidence of cut content from the early stage of the game for Iosefka’s Clinic, there’s no reason for the artists and programmers to build two versions of the clinic interior. Thus, we move on to the considerably trickier questions of the evidence that is drawn from what does exist in the game:
The Healing Church Connection
It is suggested that Iosefka must have some connection with the Healing Church, and that this connection raises suspicions of her activity. After looking at the facts, I have to concede that there almost certainly is some connection between Iosefka and the Church.
Let’s look at it from the suggestion that Iosefka is innocent, that she is no more than an innocent doctor, genuinely concerned for the well-being of her patients. Well, what kind of medical treatment is offered? Some clues can be extracted by examining the various apparatus lying around the clinic, but we can’t be certain that any individual piece of equipment wasn’t brought in by the impostor, even though it is plain that the majority could not have been. Rather, there is an even more obvious connection. The opening cinematics of the game have us visiting Iosefka’s Clinic, inquiring of the Blood Minister about “Paleblood,” and proceeding to undergo blood ministration, being transformed with “a bit of Yharnam blood,” as he puts it.
We are told repeatedly throughout the game that blood ministration is the purview of the Healing Church. Gilbert and Alfred tell us about how the holy medium found in the tomb of the gods became the fountainhead of blood healing and is kept in the Grand Cathedral. Examining the Blood of Adella teaches us how the Church cultivates “Blood Saints,” who produce special blood with healing effects that can be used medically. There is no indication that blood ministration is something that can be obtained from the general populace, from private doctors. We have come to Iosefka’s Clinic for blood ministration and therefore it must be connected to the Healing Church.
Therefore, in addition to her wearing of the Healing Church’s special garb, and the finding of a Iosefka’s Blood Vial in Mergo’s Loft where only the School of Mensis had reached (suggesting that this group had access to the “special clinic product”), the realities of medical practice in Yharnam point directly to Iosefka being a member of the Healing Church. As the clinic is or purports to be a medical facility and is at least superficially conducting research work (enough to produce the special blood vials at a minimum), the most likely conclusion is that Iosefka is exactly what she appears to be, one of the white-clad senior Church doctors. These doctors are superior in status to the black-clad preventative hunters, so it fits the facts to suggest that one would be put in charge of a facility like the clinic.
So, we are left with the firm conclusion that Iosefka, the real Iosefka, is directly linked to the Healing Church and is almost certainly a member of that institution. Innocent or not, this is a suspicious circumstance, for the Healing Church has been guilty of many atrocities throughout its history in pursuit of the Eldritch Truth.
Nonetheless, association cannot be equated to guilt. The Healing Church also includes individuals whose morality is at the least marked with ambiguity, such as Alfred, Lady Maria, Ludwig, Amelia, Logarius, and even Laurence. Not everyone associated with the Church is a Micolash, cackling evilly and proud of it. And whatever the Church may do, it also carries on a public face that appears helpful and supportive to the population of Yharnam and whose reputation reaches even beyond. To condemn Iosefka, stronger evidence is needed.
The Source of the Emissaries
A more significant question lies with the issue of the Celestial Emissaries wandering in the ravine floor in the Forbidden Woods. The ravine is a dead-end path; there is no sign of where they may have come from or how they got there; there is no indication in the environment that there was any reason to expect their presence. As noted above, the Forbidden Woods are directly connected to Iosefka’s Clinic—they are directly adjacent game areas, and movement back and forth can occur without need to resort to magical portals or the like, and the gate is found open when we arrive, without need for a key, password, or device to bypass. This is as logical a source as any, and if we believe that the clinic is a source, then for the reasons already noted, it seems highly unlikely that these Emissaries were created by the impostor. Possibly we can speculate that the Emissaries were created from the unknown patients that Iosefka claims are present behind the locked door (“The patients here in my clinic must not be exposed to infection.” ) and who are certainly not wandering around inside the clinic when we enter it, but even so, one has to wonder why they ran away and none of those made from NPCs show any signs of doing so. It is possible that this is what happened (and that their flight is why Impostor Iosefka requires fresh test subjects to continue her work), but it also seems unlikely and inconsistent with the known subjects’ behavior.
The truth is, if Iosefka is to be exonerated, then another explanation for the Emissaries’ presence in the woods must be discovered, one which is as likely as the story of the clinic escape.
But if the Emissaries didn’t come from the clinic, then where did they come from? As I noted, it doesn’t make sense that a creature whose other appearances in Yharnam was given specific sources would suddenly be appearing like a random wandering monster in an old-school tabletop RPG. There didn’t appear to be an answer, and “from the clinic” made as much sense as anything else. Yes, it would require the Emissaries to wander down a ladder, through a cave full of poison, past parasites and Church Giants, through the village, and past a snake-infested wilderness, but we’ve seen NPCs do the same, and after all, many of those hazards might not even be hostile to the Emissaries.
Then the Old Hunters DLC came out, and the answer arrived.
Consider this excerpt from the description of the Butcher’s Attire set: “Attire of the Madaras Twins, denizens of the Forbidden Woods, likely belonging to the older of the two. Both the twins became hunters, and brought back and dissected their beast prey, in order to support the villagers in their forbidden research.” (emphasis mine)
And there it is. “Forbidden research” was taking place, canonically, in the ramshackle village in the Forbidden Woods. A village which is very much closer to the location of the loose Emissaries than the clinic or the Cathedral Ward. A village, moreover, in which we find the White Church Set, suggesting the presence of Healing Church researchers. And the game’s first supply of Blue Elixirs, medicine “used in strange experiments conducted by high ministers of the Healing Church,” and known to be used in Impostor Iosefka’s research (which she’ll give to us as rewards, as noted earlier in this essay, if you join forces with her and knowingly deliver human subjects), is also found in the village. (On the beasthood side of research, one could also point to the recurrence of Beast Blood Pellets, the finding of the Beast’s Roar, and the suggestive presence of the Afflicted Beggar NPC as showing the village’s connection.)
Moreover, there’s another connection as well. Along the narrow path where the Emissaries are found, there are several corpses, most carrying Madman’s Knowledge. These corpses include a recognizable, unusual type, a man with relatively long gray hair and a low-crowned, flat-topped black hat. Similar corpses can be found in the Forbidden Woods, such as in the area the guide calls Cannon Alley. Could these men, men who in the ravine reveal Madman’s Knowledge, skulls bursting with the pressure of the Eldritch Truth, be the minions and assistants of the Impostor? Did, in fact, the Impostor herself work in the village of beasts on her experiments, until she decided to move to Yharnam in search of fresh, uncorrupted victims, free from the scourge of the beast?
The Village as Link
The Forbidden Woods village does not look, upon an initial glance, like a center for occult medical research. It is a ramshackle place of bare boards, ill-fitting together, with houses scarcely better than shacks steadily rotting into the grounds. Its population is falling prey to the scourge of the beast; the only ones still human are corpses. Indeed, if one peers through the boards into the only house where an incense-lamp burns and an answering voice can be heard, the person inside can be seen to be turning to a beast as well. At first glance, it appears more akin to the degenerate villages found in the Dunwich Valley (“The Dunwich Horror”) and the Louisiana bayou country (“The Call of Cthulhu”) in the writings of H.P. Lovecraft. Indeed, in succumbing to the scourge of the beast, the woods villagers have indeed become something subhuman in a more literal and accurate way than envisioned through the racial prejudice that tainted Lovecraft’s lens.
Nonetheless, as we are specifically told that “forbidden research” took place in the village, through the most objective narrator that Bloodborne provides, we must accept as fact that it occurred, regardless of how things look—and quite recently, as the Younger Madaras Twin is still alive and well, for we will fight him ourselves if we follow Valtr’s questline.
And having accepted this as fact, we are provided with entire new routes of speculation as to what was going on in the Forbidden Woods. It has been discussed at length that the physical location of the old Pthumerian labyrinths was beneath the Forbidden Woods, its location directly adjacent to both Byrgenwerth and to Yharnam’s Cathedral Ward. While it can be deduced that the explorations within the labyrinth turned from their physical reality to the dream-world alternate created through a Chalice ritual (or, if one conversely believes that the Chalice Dungeons are merely physical locations in the Waking World accessed through the chalices as we use the Awakening Headstones, that they gave up on mundane archaeological digs to rely upon the chalice rituals), the original location would need to be accessed as well. Thus, the forest village may well have begun as Byrgenwerth’s on-site archaelogical camp, a base of operations. Ironically, in later years, this direction may have turned, with the village instead being the Church’s base for excursions into Byrgenwerth (such as Yurie’s).
The kind of research being carried out in the village is not spelled out, but we can speculate. The presence of the Beast Roar and numerous Beast Blood Pellets throughout the village area make it suggestive that nature of beasthood was the center of at least some of it. As we know the Beast Blood Pellets were forbidden by the Healing Church due to their “dubious origin,” and that the creator of the Beast Roar was Irreverent Izzy, it’s quite possible that this research was surreptitious in nature (amusing as it may be to us to imagine the Healing Church authorities drawing lines as to precisely which horrific occult researches are “too much”), and as such carried out in a location remote from the centers of power in the Upper Cathedral Ward and the Unseen Village. This draws another parallel to Impostor Iosefka’s experiments. After all, we’ve established that Iosefka’s Clinic was almost certainly a Healing Church facility, and the impostor nonetheless took the risk of entering by force and taking it over for the sake of carrying out her work; clearly although she herself shows the telltale signs of belonging to the Church, she is working for herself, to her own ends. It is by no means impossible to envision that in this relatively remote location, outside of direct Church scrutiny, experiments of diverse nature were carried out.
I suggested above that the impostor moved from the Forbidden Woods to Iosefka’s Clinic in search of fresh research subjects. Again, this is speculation, but we do find that no one left alive in the Forbidden Woods area is still human. We also see throughout the game that as time progresses, the call of the impending Blood Moon becomes stronger, with NPCs in houses who were able to communicate earlier on in the game succumbing to insanity and beasthood. Iosefka herself remains human throughout the night, and even at the last, while writhing in what seems to be a supernatural pregnancy inflicted by Oedon, crows about the fact that she was confirmed in thinking that she was not succumbing: “I knew it! I’m no beast!” It isn’t a strong connection, but it does seem that she was measuring herself by some standard of comparison, some way to establish that she was separate from the beasts around her, and what better reason to draw that comparison than if she had previously been in an environment where everyone around her was giving way to beasthood?
As can be seen, this is a fruitful line of speculation which opens the door to many intriguing theories. At the very least, the possibilities raised by this line of thought present a viable alternative explanation to the origin of the Celestial Emissaries in the woods, an idea that makes as much if not more sense than that they escaped from the clinic. Further speculation in this direction, though, ultimately concerns Impostor Iosefka, and the focus of this essay remains the motive of the original, so we must move on to look at additional evidence.
The Corpses in the Shaft
The discovery of a large number of corpses strewn throughout the connecting shafts, both the natural and constructed halves, connecting the subterranean cave to the clinic, is a macabre sight greeting our return to the surface. They are strewn liberally on the ground, thoroughly laying here and there on almost all horizontal surfaces. So where did they come from? The simplest and most direct suggestion is that they were dumped down the shaft from the surface, and the building adjacent to the cemetery area is Iosefka’s Clinic. Indeed, a locked gate separates the cemetery from the outside world, and that gate merely leads out into the clinic’s front courtyard, while the back gate leads ultimately to Iosefka’s backyard. It does seem a virtual certainty that the cemetery is part of the clinic estate, not some sort of public graveyard.
Nor, indeed, does this come as a surprise. We already know from the game that it was the Healing Church that sealed the Forbidden Woods. We further have already established that it is likewise almost beyond contradiction that the true Iosefka is associated with the Healing Church. It makes complete sense that, having sealed the “front door” to the Forbidden Woods, that the Healing Church would want to maintain control over the “back door” entry point as well. The presence of Church Giants in the poison-filled cave emphasizes this.
And it is this which helps to explain to us why the shaft exists in the first place. It is possible that the poison-filled caves are part of the original Byrgenwerth excavations that led to the ancient labyrinths—or, more likely, led to the initial finding of the Holy Chalices that pointed the way to those labyrinths. As noted above, this would explain the position of the village right outside the entry point—as a safe “base camp” for the initial excursions into the area, from which tomb prospectors could rest and restock. But when the Forbidden Woods were sealed off after the split between the Healing Church and Byrgenwerth (the initial glimpses of which we see in the cinematic scene shown when touching Laurence’s skull after defeating Amelia), would the Healing Church truly cut themselves off from their own research, their own ability to exploit the Woods? This is very unlikely.
The logical suggestion is that the shaft was dug from above, from Iosefka’s Clinic to the Forbidden Woods. However, this does not match up with the architecture. The shaft (by which I mean the stonework area surrounding the upper ladder, not the natural cave area surrounding the lower ladder) is actually wider at the bottom, with a narrow shaft to climb through at the top. The deduction from that is that the area beneath was hollowed out first. Why was this done? Well, there are no features in the room, no equipment or furniture present, so the only thing that seems understandable is that it was some sort of workspace. This leads to the assumption that the shaft was dug up from the lower levels to the area above, with the larger area at the bottom used as a work area, to remove dirt, to prepare stone, and in general to give them the ability to function. Mining is hazardous work, and mining upwards even more so. Miners worked, miners died in accidents, and no doubt many of them still lay where they fell, sprawled on the floor, jackknifed over beams, and piled in mummified heaps.
Farfetched? Maybe so. It’s only a suggestion. The bodies may have been, for example, ones that were there in hollows and niches like those in the natural caves below that were dug out as the excavation progressed—indeed, the mummified corpses all look roughly identical, so this possibility isn’t by any means mpossible. But what is impossible is the suggestion that the bodies came from Iosefka’s Clinic, or more accurately that they were dumped down the shaft as part of a callous and cruel disposal of experimental victims who had outlived their usefulness. Why? Because some of those bodies are found outside the radius of the upper, narrower part of the shaft. A body does not fall down the shaft, burst into the open air, then fly sideways some distance to land on a protruding beam or bit of scaffolding!
As a secondary, less important point, I would suggest that apparently callous disposal of bodies into a mass grave does not necessarily imply that those bodies are of people who were ill-used while alive. We have two separate pieces of evidence for this. On the one hand, Yharnam burial customs—common burial customs—are by no means dignified and wholesome. While we do see gravestones scattered throughout the area, we also see coffins littering the streets. We see bodies being dug up and harvested for eyes and bone marrow in Hemwick Charnel Lane. The Crowfeather Attire description outright refers to a Yharnam burial service as “blasphemous.” Ordinary deaths, not deaths from experimentation, end up being reduced to grim events, and we can in no way claim that the presence of corpses treated in an undignified, disrespectful fashion necessarily implies that those people were mistreated while alive.
On the other hand, if we think of the scourge of the beast as a plague—and why should we not, with Old Yharnam as evidence before us?—then we need only look to historical example, such as the plague pits where bodies of Black Death victims were dumped and interred. The cemetery behind Iosefka’s Clinic is small and well-kept, implying an attempt to treat the bodies of the deceased with dignity, but if the scourge overwhelmed the blood ministers’ ability to treat it (no surprise, given that blood ministration was itself the key vector for the spread of the scourge), it might quickly have become overwhelming. Whether this idea holds water will depend on how literally one takes the dialogue of Eileen and the Chapel Dweller which imply that Yharnam is nothing but a nest of beasts at this point. When Eileen says, “they’re all flesh-hungry beasts,” does she mean literally everyone (but the scarce handful of exceptions we find along the way)? Or does she mean merely those who still prowl the streets and thus present themselves as possible targets for the hunt—that we the hunter need not hesitate to strike and strike quickly. Is Yharnam indeed “done for” as the Dweller says? Or is it merely his fear of the unusual circumstances of the Blood Moon that moves him to hyperbole?
Regardless, however, of whether these considerations “dial back” the immediate shock and horror of finding the corpses throughout the shaft, even in those circumstances, the way the bodies are found shows that at least some of them cannot be explained by something so simple as being dropped from above.
In a game such as Bloodborne, there are few hard and fast answers to any but the most superficial and obvious questions of lore. An honest response to anything more complex—and more interesting—lies only within gradations of possibility and belief. In this essay I have attempted to examine one of my own beliefs about the game, that the story of Iosefka and her impostor was a tragedy whereby a well-meaning, good woman was murdered by a cruel scientist who assumed her identity and the charitable facade of the clinic to advance desperate, obsessive research in an attempt to reach the level of the Great Ones by means of physical metamorphosis using the Old Blood as a medium.
Can this narrative stand? Or must I face the theories arrayed by Iosefka’s accusers and bow my head? I think, in the language of the old Scottish courts, that the charges against Iosefka must stand as not proven. Are the charges themselves—that is, the theory that Iosefka herself was involved in unspeakable researches much like her impostor—untenable? No, I do not believe we can say that. At the very least, I think we must admit that Iosefka’s Clinic is an institution of the Healing Church, and the Healing Church can never claim “innocence” as one of its attributes. But neither can the finger of guilt point directly to Iosefka and say, “These works are yours.” We cannot declare that the bodies in the shaft necessarily belong to her, and we have seen that other reasonable explanations exist for the presence of the Celestial Emissaries in the Forbidden Woods, at least one explanation which I personally feel makes a more compelling narrative.
Therefore, while I will not stand and say that anyone who finds a less pleasant, more corrupt interpretation of Iosefka to be their preferred belief is necessarily wrong, I will say that I am not convinced by such reasoning. I see, rather, Iosefka’s Clinic as being precisely that: a medical institution through which the Healing Church extends its facilities of blood ministration to the people of Yharnam (and to outsiders such as ourselves who come to Yharnam for its healing blood). Iosefka herself I believe to be sincere in her mission of caring for those who come to her, to try to cure what ails them and hopefully protect them against the scourge of the beast. There is room for such a person within the Church: blood ministration is the source of the Church’s power and prestige in Yharnam and those interested in maintaining that position would make sure that the job is carried out to the best of the Church’s abilities so that the true, secret rituals could be carried out in the hidden corners of Yharnam, out of sight of the common citizenry. Iosefka stands as an innocent, and like virtually all innocence in Yharnam, is no match for the forces of madness that stalk the night of the Blood Moon.
1. Bloodborne Collector’s Edition Guide, “Drained of Blood” interview
6. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plague_pit contains a casual discussion of the topic
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