Paarthurnax, for those who don’t know, is a very nice, grey, scarred dragon who sits at the Throat of the World in Skyrim. He’s crucial to the main story line, and sets you on the path to learn the shout Dragonrend, which was created by men and used to help defeat Alduin, the big bad guy, back in the dragon wars. And since Alduin has returned, it’s probably a good idea to have the Dragonborn be able to get the bastard to land on the ground so he can actually defeat him.
This nice old dragon actually doesn’t seem to do that much, but he does try to help out. When you visit the time wound and Alduin appears, Paarthurnax gets up and tries to fight, pushing you onwards to shout at Alduin and drive him off. Basically, you wouldn’t have been able to do it without Paarthy. Well, you might have been able to, but it would have been pretty damn difficult, it’s more that Paarthurnax put you on the right track. And he probably would have flown you to Skuldafn if Odahviing proved to be too much of a pain.
With so many evil or bored and destructive dragons, Paarthurnax is a breath of fresh air. A dragon who won’t set your ass on fire and actually helps you.
Then suddenly, you’re asked to kill him. Generally, it’s after Seasons Unending, when the Blades (i.e. Esbern and Delphine) discover that Paarthurnax isn’t a friendly human but a dragon, and say they refuse to help you if you don’t kill him. The quest to kill him is forced on you and is often hard to avoid, and not having the Blades means you miss out on… um… not much.
The Blades have several benefits – firstly you can hire up to three people to join the Blades, a great way of getting rid of Housecarls you don’t like, secondly you can get and store loot in their base of operations, including a powerful potion and thirdly, you can ask Esbern about dragon sightings, ensuring a constant source of dragon loot. Although the third option isn’t that helpful, because dragons almost always spawn at dragon perches anyway, whether you help the Blades or not.
Not killing Paarthurnax has similar low-level benefits – the Greybeards let you live with them, they’ll give you the location of word walls so you can unlock more shouts, and Paarthurnax himself gives you a nice selection of buffs – heal more while Becoming Ethereal, push harder and have more resistance with Unrelenting Force, or deal more damage with Fire Breath. If you decide to kill Paathurnax, the Greybeards will never speak to you again, and you get pretty shitty dragon loot, as well as an empty mountain top.
Thing is, there’s no real story-based reason to kill Paarthurnax. One common argument used by those who decide to kill him is that “he may become evil in the future!” as one of Paarthurnax’s own lines informs us that he battles with his own inner desire to dominate, but he’s been winning that fight for centuries. If he wanted you dead, he would have blown you off the Throat of the World the second you got up there. This is a smart dragon. Another reason is that perhaps Paarthurnax is evil and is now the boss of the dragons. While it’s true that the number of dragon spawns doesn’t increase or decrease once Alduin is defeated, it’s unfair to blame it all on Paathurnax. After all, dragons are stubborn bastards and Alduin isn’t really dead, most dovah know that. Odahviing outright claims that few will actually follow him.
The “he might be evil later!” argument could hold some water, after all, you get betrayed a few times in your Skyrim adventures, and Paarthurnax IS a dragon, but then you end up killing someone for crimes they have not yet committed. And that really messes with my moral compass. It feels cruel. And before you bring up the “the Dragonborn will die eventually!” argument, it’s very unlikely that the Dovahkiin will manage to kill all dragons before his or her time runs out, so Paarthurnax or not, there will always be dragons around to terrorize the nearby towns.
If Paarthurnax DID suddenly become evil, then yes, sure, I’ll put him in his place at the drop of a hat, but all he ever does is sit there, offering advice. He’s old and actually very frail for a dragon, rarely stronger than a standard or Frost dragon, I’m pretty sure a small regiment of Whiterun guards could deal with him.
The other reason other people use to justify killing Paarthurnax is that he was formerly Alduin’s lieutenant and had committed many atrocities during the dragon war. Which pretty much every dragon did. Except, unlike every other dragon, Paarthurnax switched sides (because Kyne told him to) and helped mortals defeat Alduin. He’s also spent his entire life since then sitting on that mountain top, atoning for his mistakes and preaching peace to men, not to mention silently waiting for Alduin to return, in order to help defeat him once more.
What bothers me more though is that there are no records what so ever for these atrocities that Paarthurnax committed. None. At all. Just the words of Esbern and Delphine, two people who are supposed to do as the Dragonborn says first and kill dragons later. I find this particularly annoying because the world of Tamriel, and the Elder Scrolls games in general, often have records on these things. There’s all sorts of records of things big and small, yet no one can tell me what exactly Paarthurnax did. Did he set fire to a hundred orphanages? If there is evidence of that, then yes, maybe he does deserve death after all, but there’s NO evidence.
You wouldn’t sentence an old woman to death for a supposed robbery 50 years ago with no evidence apart from the word of one guy who wasn’t even alive back then, would you? Of course not. So leave poor Paarthurnax alone. He’s already served his time.
Plus, the first time you meet, he asks you to set him on fire, which is pretty cool.