It’s not easy being one of the six most powerful women in the galaxy. As an eridium-fueled Siren in the Borderlands games, Lilith wields deadly abilities—but bears a heavy burden. Recent games have placed her front-and-centre as a straight-talking leader, but she didn’t begin life that way. We spoke with Borderlands 3’s co-lead writer Sam Winkler about how she’s changed—and what she means to the popular series.
In the original Borderlands, Lilith was one of the four playable vault hunters and didn’t have much approaching a personality. When it came time to take the original cast and turn them into story characters, that meant retro-fitting each with a sense of self. "All of the Borderlands player characters have distinct voices and personalities," Winkler says. "But there always needs to be some wiggle room for the players themselves to fit in. When you transition them to NPC status, you have to backfill those gaps in ways that are both rewarding and not jarring to the people who played as them. You have to find the throughlines."
For Lilith, that throughline is her confidence and attitude. She doesn’t do anything cautiously or at half measure. She fights hard, parties harder, and runs headlong into danger throughout the series. "One of the cool things about writing for Borderlands is that the heroes aren’t always right and they don’t always make the best decisions," Winkler says. "Lilith has royally screwed up several times in the franchise, and those moments have shaped who she is in Borderlands 3."
This is the same woman who decided, in the heat of battle, to juice herself up with eridium and use her Siren ‘phaseshift’ ability to move the entire town of Sanctuary along with her in Borderlands 2. And that’s exactly the sort of reckless last resort that defines her character.
"Lilith is one of the most powerful and dangerous people in the universe," Winkler says. “And she knows it.” That confidence was a natural part of playing Borderlands as Lilith and became the cornerstone of her personality as an NPC in the games that followed.
What don’t we know about Lilith that we may never see in a game? Winkler is hesitant to give away anything in his hand that may still be of use, but he does reveal one detail that helps inform her story in the new sequel, "One line that ended up getting cut from the Commander Lilith and the Fight for Sanctuary DLC was a confirmation that she was born with her tattoos, while some other Sirens, like Angel, were not. Borderlands 3 blows up some pre-conceptions of Siren powers and how they find their way to people."
It takes two
Another important throughline for Lilith is her relationship with Roland, known in Borderlands as ‘the Soldier’. The two both began as playable characters in Borderlands. By the time of Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel, we meet the two vacationing together in Moxxi’s bar, a getaway plan that I suspected wasn’t Roland’s first choice. “Roland wasn’t exactly the most unbuttoned guy on Pandora, so it’s hard to imagine a vacation being his idea,” Winkler confirms. “But if one of the six legendary Sirens asks you to come dancing with her, you go.”
Throughout Borderlands 2 and the Pre-Sequel, Roland takes on the role of the ‘man with a plan’ while Lilith bulls forward on the path he sets for the vault hunters. After being separated at the beginning of Borderlands 2, Lilith takes up the alias ‘Firehawk’ as the leader of a group of psychos. Despite that tenure as bandit legend prior to meeting back up with Roland and the crew, Winkler says, “Lilith never intended to become the leader of anything.”
Now, (Borderlands 2 spoilers) after Roland has been killed by Handsome Jack, Lilith is left to pick up the pieces of the Crimson Raiders that he once led. In the wake of his death, someone has to step up and take charge, a role that Lilith initially struggles with. Years later in Borderlands 3, Winkler says, “She’s a confident, driven commander who is laser-focused on finding the map to the Vaults.”
Lilith ultimately fills Roland’s shoes as a commander, but I had to wonder: will anyone else take his place as her partner?
“Lilith is a deeply private person. She struggles with letting down her guard and showing weakness,” Winkler says. “How the hell do you meet new people in the Borderlands? I wouldn’t use a Hyperion dating app, for sure.” Sounds like if there’s another person in Lilith’s life it will have to be another on-the-job introduction.
Despite Gearbox’s fondness for a certain dubstepping toaster, Lilith has evolved into the perfect face for the series. Brash, powerful, yet oddly human—she’s come a long way from just being the support class.