Tali’Zorah nar Rayya — An In-Depth Character Analysis

Greetings everybody!

Quite excited for this one, you guys. The Mass Effect franchise is definitely my favorite science-fiction universe out there (yes, even trumping Halo and Star Wars) because of how it blends the best aspects of Star Trek, Star Wars, Halo, and more all into one consistent, cohesive setting (minus 3’s ending) that’s home to some of the most well-written video game characters that have ever existed.

Today, we’re taking an in-depth look at my favorite among those legendary characters – Tali’Zorah nar Rayya.

WARNING: Spoilers lie ahead. If you don’t want the Mass Effect trilogy ruined for you, I advise you to stop now. But I gotta say – if you haven’t played the trilogy yet, what’s wrong with you? 

Also! This article assumes a Paragon play-through and a Tali romance, as those two styles of play give us the most time with her and thus the majority of Tali’s character is revealed by being Paragon and being in a romantic relationship with her.

(Psst – I would argue she’s one of the best romances in the games, too!)

Ahem – moving on…

Tali is a member of the quarian race, a people who often faced prejudice across the Milky Way even in Mass Effect’s galactic multi-cultural society because of their actions in the past.


What It Means To Be A Quarian

Before we can analyze Tali’s character in the games, we need to preface that with a look at her biological race, and what it means for her to be a member of it. This will be important later on!

By the way, if you’re already well-versed on the history of the quarians, feel free to skip on down to the Tali-specific stuff. If you’re not, or want a recap, then make sure to read this section.

The Quarian People

Tali is a female young adult quarian – a society composed of a humanoid, nomadic people, travelling from place to place scavenging or buying anything and everything possible in order to keep their old, outdated ships in working condition. They live this life due to the conflict between them and their creations, the geth, 300 years prior to the events of the Mass Effect trilogy.

The Geth War

The quarian people (who were then a thriving civilization) created the geth in 1895 CE  in order to assist them in numerous tasks in their lives. However, by allowing them to share a linked intelligence (they did this to allow geth to work together more efficiently) that grew with each connected geth unit, they eventually reached sapience and began to pose questions to the quarians about their purpose.

Aware of both the dangers of artificial intelligence and the Citadel government’s outlaw of AI research, the quarians retaliated in fear and violence, attempting to terminate all geth before they could continue this growth. Acting in pure self-defense, the more durable, faster and quicker-thinking geth retaliated, killing billions of the attacking quarians and forcing them to evacuate their own homeworld of Rannoch.

Geth War
Forced to act by the quarians, the geth defended themselves with deadly efficiency.

The Aftermath

Now with the majority of their population dead, their technologically advanced society reduced to rubble, and nothing but a few hundred space-worthy vessels left, the quarian people entered an age of nomadic way of life, wandering from system to system in an effort to sustain their mobile civilization known as the Migrant Fleet.

It was at this time that the quarian people became social rejects to the rest of the galaxy. Stripped of their embassy on the Citadel for creating artificial intelligence and their pleas for aid refused at every turn, they were known from then-on as the galaxy’s laughingstock. Facing prejudice at almost every turn, the quarian society became almost completely inwardly focused, forced to fend for themselves in their poor position with little to no aid from other civilizations. This would continue for the next 300 years, all the way up to – and during – the Mass Effect trilogy.

The quarians’ need for enviro-suits are a by-product of prolonged lives in sterile environments.

A New Way Of Life

This new, secluded lifestyle heavily influenced quarian culture, biology, and law. With their homes now being nothing but ships, the millions of quarians that escaped the geth War were forced to live in extremely close proximity to one another. This, as well as the important tasks of working together to sustain the Migrant Fleet, turned the quarian people into an extremely social and community-oriented people. Very few quarians, therefore, are selfish – in fact, they have become one of the most selfless species in the galaxy.

Biologically, the quarian immune system was weakened heavily by their new, seemingly permanent lifestyle aboard spaceships. With no exposure to germs or bacteria of any kind due to the sterile environments of their ships, their immune system regressed into a state of almost complete inefficiency. This caused simple sicknesses, such as the common cold, to become lethal to quarians. In response, they developed special enviro-suits – layered with multiple decontamination systems and automatic medicine injectors – to protect them from any foreign contaminant.

Dead Quarian
Quarians in combat often died from bacteria entering their system through their punctured suits before dying from wounds from the actual fight.

The effects of this had a major impact on their culture. Cleanliness became a top priority, and the lack of safe skin-on-skin contact made romantic physical contact difficult. Linking suit systems together would become the most intimate action a quarian pair could do together safely without stimulants – to have intercourse, both quarians would require several immuno-boosters and herbal supplements.

Finally, law in the Migrant Fleet was focused on one thing and one thing only – sustaining the Fleet. All quarians were required to work a maintenance quota for the ship that they lived on every day, as well as assisting others in whatever tasks needed to be completed if they benefited the Fleet.  Food and medicine was distributed with extreme care so as to avoid shortages and to stockpile supplies in case of an emergency situation, such as an outbreak of a contaminant. Couples were required to limit the amount of children they could have to one (similar to modern China) but in times where the population was low, more births were encouraged and even incentives were offered by the government.

Young quarians that were on the cusp of adulthood were sent on Pilgrimages – journeys into the galaxy, far away from the Fleet. They were to bring back something of value to the Fleet (equipment, money, etc.) or accomplish an important task and offer/tell it to the captain of a vessel. In return, the captain would welcome the new adult as a crew member of their ship.

In terms of government, the quarians operate under a confederate-style of democracy in which the Admiralty Board – a group of the Fleet’s Admirals – make up the federal authority. However, each ship’s captain can be considered a “state official” as the captain of each individual ship has the ultimate say in what happens with their ship. This is because the captain’s know their ship and it’s crew better than anyone else. Sons or daughters of a captain or admiral are encouraged – but not forced – to eventually replace their parents.

In summary, quarians are generally:

  • community-focused
  • selfless
  • social
  • loyal
  • technologically skilled

Congrats for making it this far! Now we can get into the good stuff – Tali herself.

In the first Mass Effect, Tali ends up being the key to proving that Saren is a traitor.

Tali’Zorah: Mass Effect 1

Tali in the first game is introduced as a strong, independent individual. Our first time seeing her is when she defends herself from Fist’s thugs in the lower levels of the Wards. After helping her defeat them, Tali agrees to share the audio that she has (obtained from a geth’s systems) that incriminates Saren with Shepard, Anderson, and Udina. After this, she joins your crew, citing stopping Saren and the geth as being something that’s simply too important to not take part of while she’s on her Pilgrimage.

As we talk to her more and get to learn about her and her people, Tali comes off as an individual that feels wholly devoted to her people – something that is a characteristic of almost all quarians. “Family first” is an appropriate representation of Tali’s priorities – that is, when “family” encompasses 17 million other quarians. She also happens to have a high opinion of her people’s past – she believes that their actions against the geth were justified, which is something that I personally disagreed with her on. But what’s important about that is that it solidifies Tali as a well-educated intellectual thinker that can logically and effectively argue a point, even if it’s one that the player might not agree with. While willing to hear the opposing views, she won’t budge on the matter, and I think that’s a good thing. Someone whose beliefs crumble under debate or scrutiny are either cowardly or don’t really believe in the first place. Tali being able and willing to defend her position effectively characterizes her as someone with some steel in her spine.

This brings me to my next point – the notion that Tali is a shy character who is afraid to engage with others.

In my opinion, I think this isn’t true…for the most part.

Evidenced by the way she enthusiastically tells you about the quarians’ history, culture, government and other aspects of their way of life, Tali isn’t afraid to talk with other people – something her soft-spoken tone of voice hides. In fact, she will talk to anyone who is willing to listen – and treating her respectfully is something she appreciates greatly in a galaxy full of anti-quarian discrimination.

What Tali doesn’t like doing is talking about herself.

Indeed, when it comes to personal matters, Tali is a lot less talkative. For instance, when Tali is having sleeping issues on the Normandy, she’s not as keen to discuss it with Shepard, only bringing it up after Shepard inquires as to what seems to be bothering her, and only explaining her assumption that the ship’s quiet is disturbing her sleep if further asked about it – much different then before, when she would eagerly give Shepard every little detail she could think of about her people. To me, this makes sense, coming from a member of a species that is community first, self second.

Other then the few conversations we have with her, though, the first Mass Effect doesn’t offer much in regards to Tali other than highlighting her independence and intellect, while also hinting at her sheepishness about herself and her problems. Mass Effect 2, however, is a whole other ball game entirely…

In Mass Effect 2, Tali becomes a much more fleshed out and explored character. For the first time, we get to see Tali interact with her people, as well as get to know her on a more personal level.

Tali’Zorah: Mass Effect 2

Unlike Mass Effect, which only gives Tali a small role and minimal characterization, Mass Effect 2 makes her a major character and gives us much more insight about her and her relationship with the rest of the quarian people.

Tali Leader
In Mass Effect 2, Tali has successfully completed her Pilgrimage and becomes a valued operative in the Migrant Fleet. She is first seen at Freedom’s Progress, leading a squad of Quarian marines.

We first encounter Tali on Freedom’s Progress while investigating the disappearance of the colony’s populace. Immediately we can hear and see that she’s matured into a full adult in the two years we haven’t seen her – her voice is more confident, she’s wearing a new, adult-class enviro-suit, and her body has fully developed (yes, she has nice hips – moving on…). It turns out that she’s there leading a squad of quarian marines, investigating a quarian named Veetor’Nara who was there assisting the human colonists for his Pilgrimage. Initially thrilled, Tali embraces Shepard after thinking he had died in the destruction of the Normandy SR-1, but immediately is off-put by the fact he’s working with Cerberus. However, for the time being, the most important task at hand is finding Veetor.

Shepard and Tali’s team split up; when the two meet again after finding Veetor, a more serious discussion is had. Tali informs Shepard that she trusts him, but not Cerberus, due to their anti-alien reputation and their recent actions against the quarians. Here, we see another example of how Tali strongly defends her beliefs. After this, the group learns that the Collectors are behind the disappearance of the colony. She ends up making the request that Shepard allow her to take Veetor and return to the Migrant Fleet, leaving only Veetor’s omni-tool for Shepard and Cerberus to study. Miranda, on the other hand, argues that Shepard should hand Veetor over to Cerberus for in-depth questioning:

“We need to get this data to the Illusive Man. Grab the quarian and call the shuttle to come pick us up.”

“WHAT?! Veetor is injured; he needs treatment – not an interrogation!”

After Shepard opts to let her take Veetor (remember – assuming Paragon!) she shows genuine gratitude to Shepard, further characterizing her as someone who recognizes and appreciates when people treat quarians with the respect and courtesy that they would for their own race.

Shepard then inquires as to whether or not Tali can join him again, just like old times. Tali, while wishing she could, must decline – she has an important mission to accomplish in geth space that she would rather not talk about in front of Cerberus. Following this, Tali and Shepard part ways, and Tali isn’t met again until the middle of the game, on Haestrom, which turns out to be where Tali’s mission is.

Tali and her group of quarian marines engage the geth on Haestrom while attempting to gather information on the planet’s suspected prematurely dying sun.

Shepard, intending to recruit Tali for the fight against the Collectors, heads to Tali’s most recently known location – Haestrom. As we fight geth on the way to meet with her, we discover that most of her team of marines was wiped out – only a marine called Kal’Reegar survives. By communicating with Tali via a quarian communication uplink, Shepard learns that her goal here is to gather information on the nearby dying sun. She also makes a request to Shepard – to keep Kal’Reegar alive. This, like the request about Veetor, makes it clear that Tali’s people are important to her.

After saving Kal’Reegar and rescuing Tali from being trapped by the geth, Tali will join your crew.

Loyalty Mission.jpg
Tali’s loyalty mission gives us the first real challenge to Tali’s established love for her people – the accusation that she has committed treason.

Treason? Committed By MY Tali?

Tali’s loyalty mission is where her character really begins to shine. After recruiting her to your crew, she will inform you the next time that you talk to her that she received a message from the Flotilla that she is being charged with treason, for reasons unknown at this time.

This conversation in particular contains some interesting lines of dialogue:

“I just received a message from the Migrant Fleet. The Admiralty Board has accused me of treason.I’m scared, Shepard…”

“Nobody who knows you could believe that you’d betray your people, Tali.”

“I don’t know…they don’t lay charges like this unless their evidence seems absolute. But…thanks. I appreciate your faith in me, Shepard.”

As well as…

“What happens when a quarian is accused of treason?”

“There’s a hearing, with members of the Admiralty Board acting as judges. My father is an admiral on the board – he’ll have to recuse himself from judgement. I can’t even imagine what he’s thinking right now.”

And finally…

“Okay. Let’s go find the Flotilla.”

“I was going to book passage on another ship – I didn’t think there was going to be time for you to help. Thank you, Shepard.”

These are all important, for a few reasons. From this conversation we can see that:

  • Tali is the daughter of an admiral
  • Tali is grateful for the faith Shepard puts in her
  • Tali is grateful for the fact Shepard offers to assist

This may seem minor at a glance (much like what we’ve looked at thus far) but I think that it tells us quite a bit. For one, we learn that Tali is the daughter of an admiral, and to me, that is very significant. In most cultures, the daughters and sons of high-ranking officers are often expected to be exceptional. Pillars of excellence, if you will.

We have no reason here to believe the quarian people are any different. And so what that does is hint to us that there’s some added pressure onto Tali to do well and do right by her people – and an accusation of treason certainly isn’t going to make her feel better in that regard.

But when Shepard says that anyone who knows her knows she would never betray her people, Tali reacts positively, thanking Shepard for the fact he believes in her. This further continues when he offers to help her further by taking her to the Flotilla. But the fact that she seems surprised that Shepard would do either strongly points to a lack of self-confidence, which, in my opinion, can be seen as an extension of the sheepish behavior we saw from her in the first Mass Effect. What we’re beginning to see here is her lack of importance on self coming to fruition. This dialogue strongly supports and confirms what Mass Effect and the first half of Mass Effect 2 have hinted towards us already – that Tali is someone who thinks highly of her people, and will do anything for them, but does not hold herself in that same light. This, for me, is the first example of significant character growth in her loyalty mission story arc.

Migrant Fleet.PNG
Shepard ends up representing Tali during the trial.

The Discovery of Rael’Zorah’s Experiments

The mission itself is full of a lot of exposition and dialogue that isn’t necessarily relevant to Tali as a character, so I’m going to skip past those parts (you shouldn’t have read this far if you haven’t played the series yet, anyway! You should already know what happens here.).

The second part of Tali’s loyalty mission that I consider important to her character is the discovery of what her father’s death, and what he did aboard the quarian ship Alarei. After discovering that her father did – reconstructing geth to test new hacking techniques on them using the pieces he had Tali send back to him – she pleads with Shepard to not reveal the evidence to the admirals, even if it means her being exiled:

“We can’t tell them. Not the admirals – not anyone.”

“Tali, without this evidence, you’re looking at exile!”

“You think I don’t know that? You think I want to live knowing I can never see the Fleet again? But I can’t go back into that room, and say that MY FATHER was the worst war criminal in our people’s history. I cannot.”

This is significant because it takes Tali’s loyalty to her people a step further – she’s willing to sacrifice her own name in order for her dead father’s to stay clean. Essentially, she’s throwing her own future away with the Fleet so that her father’s name would remain clear. This takes the concept of loyalty that all quarians possess to the next level. And while quarians are a loyal people, I’m not sure if most would be willing to actually accept permanent exile just to save the name of their parents. To me, this sets Tali apart from the other quarians that we’ve met thus far.

The Aftermath Of The Trial

After you return to the Rayya and clear her name by highlighting Tali’s past services to the galaxy and Fleet – convincing the admirals that the idea of her having poor judgement or being treasonous is ludicrous – while also keeping the information about her father a secret via an epic, “Shepardspearean” speech, (Paragon runs always work out so nicely!) Tali also says some things that I find to be the third (and last) example of her significant character development within the loyalty mission:

“I can’t believe you pulled that off. What you said…I’ve ever had anyone speak like that on my behalf. Thank you for being there for my father and me, even when…thank you.”

“Tali, about what your father said…what he did…you deserved better.”

“I GOT better, Shepard. I got you.”

“We can still go back in and get you exiled, if you want.”

“Hah – thanks. But I’m fine with things like this. It’s fun watching you shout.”

“Come on, Tali’Zorah vas Normandy. Let’s get back to our ship.”

“Thank you…captain.”

It is at this moment that we truly become best friends with Tali.

She trusted and liked us before, obviously, but following this event, it’s clear to see that Tali feels immensely impacted by Shepard’s actions, more-so than any time before – and in light of that, I believe it is here that Tali realizes that Shepard is her closest true friend (she becomes better friends with Garrus in the next game) outside of the Migrant Fleet. For the first time, Tali comes out of her personal shell a little bit with the “It’s fun watching you shout” line – and we’ve already established that it’s unlikely she takes this emotional armor off for most (if any) people. Yet, here we are – with Tali even calling us “captain” which, in quarian culture, is a significant rank and position of respect. To Tali, we are her captain – not just literally, but also as someone she looks up to, someone who she resonates with personally, and someone she can call a true friend.

Now, at this point, Mass Effect 2 could stop, we could move on to Mass Effect 3, and not offer Tali as a romance option, and her character in this series would still be phenomenal. But, should you choose to romance her, her character and relationship with Shepard gets fleshed out even further – and it’s done so well that if you’re like me, the experience you had forming a relationship with her will leave a lasting impression on you forever.

The relationship between Shepard and Tali can begin following her loyalty mission.


One thing I always hear about the romantic relationships in these games is that they’re too focused on the physical intimacy – never about exploring the characters themselves. And while I think that’s true for characters like Jack or Kelly Chambers, it’s most certainly not true for Tali.

The romance begins when Tali accidentally lets it slip that she’s interested during a conversation:

“We’re in our suits even among family. The most intimate thing we can do with another quarian is link our suit environments. We get sick at first, and then we adapt. It’s our most important gesture of trust, of acceptance. I haven’t trusted anyone enough for that, though. Except…well, no quarians. Um, you know what I mean.”

“I appreciate the thought, Tali, and I feel the same way. But you don’t have to prove anything to me.”

“I know – well, not that I know, but I didn’t mean it like that. It’s, um…wow, it’s really hot in here. It’s just that the tradition also signifies a willingness for, um…intimacy. I wasn’t trying to…it’s not always like that, it’s more…how did we even end up talking about this?”

“You have nothing to be embarrassed about, Tali. I feel the same way about you.”

“Really? I didn’t…you never…well, good. Anyway, I should get back to work, but…thanks. For coming by and…talking.”

What we see here is an example of how Tali’s low self-esteem gets the better of her emotionally. Her nervous behavior (confirmed by Tali herself later in the game) is a type of defense mechanism that Tali puts forth when she’s talking about deep, personal feelings – like her romantic feelings for Shepard. She’s afraid – afraid that Shepard will think less of her for feeling this way, afraid to show raw, emotional feelings like this to another person, afraid to put herself out there – a conclusion supported by the hints from the first Mass Effect and the general selfless philosophy of all quarians. However, when Shepard reveals that he does in fact feel the same way, Tali, surprised, reacts positively. She quickly ends the conversation afterwards, but before doing so we get a clear hint that from her response, tone of voice, and body language (she flails her arms up in the air shortly out of surprise) that she is relieved that she wasn’t just burned by Shepard following the release of her emotions, something that a quarian would no doubt come to expect in a galaxy where almost every other species hates them. The fear that Shepard, her close friend, would react that way is, of course, crazy – but fear isn’t always rational. Emotions often make everyone think irrationally at some point.

Things remain on hold for a while. However, after giving Tali some time, she’s ready to speak with you again regarding the relationship:

“I’ve been thinking about the last time we talked…I’m sorry. I was unprofessional, and I wasn’t thinking rationally. I was being stupid – and selfish.”

“You’ve never been selfish. If anything, you’ve spent too much time thinking of the Fleet and not enough thinking of yourself.”

“That might be true for humans, but quarians are different. We can’t just…we have to think of other people. Always. If we don’t think about the needs of the whole crew, people could get hurt – even killed. You deserve to…be happy with someone. I can’t do that. No matter how much I…I could get sick. Jeopardize the mission.”

“Tali, if you’re scared, I don’t blame you. But I don’t want anyone else – I want you. And I’ll do whatever I have to do to make this work.”

“I wouldn’t blame you if you…oh. Thank you. You don’t know what that…thank you. Give me a little time. I’ll do some research – figure out how to make this work.”

This scene is absolutely beautiful.

What we have here, for the first time, is someone – Shepard – seriously and genuinely wanting to be close and be with Tali, for who she is. So what if she’s a quarian? So what if we can’t easily be physically intimate? That doesn’t matter. What does matter is that Shepard wants this, and Tali wants this, and because of that, nothing else matters. True love for another person, human or otherwise, can’t be held back by obstacles like Tali’s biology, not when both members are committed as deeply as they are. Where there’s a will, there’s a way.

The other part of this conversation I felt was significant is when Tali says:

“If I’m going to be with you, I want it to be REAL. I need to feel your skin against mine. I’ve never shown my face to anyone…but I’m ready to show you.”

Holy shit.

What this quote tells us is so simple, yet it’s so significant. Tali is willing to put everything on the line for Shepard’s sake. Her health, her trust, and even the worry of what people think of her face under that mask. The amount of love she feels for Shepard is made abundantly apparent by this.

Speaking of the mask, I think now is a good point to talk about what it symbolizes and how it relates to her character.

Tali’s mask is an important symbol of her character.

The Mask

Tali’s mask serves as a physical representation of the social barriers that she puts around herself whenever she is the topic of discussion. As we already know, Tali doesn’t seem to think much of herself, nor does she think that her personal problems are important. Therefore, I see her mask is a type of shield – something that she can hide herself behind while doing everything she can for her people. For her to take it off to show Shepard later on in the romance cutscene, is a big deal for both her and for Shepard. I see it as a way that Tali is breaking down her want to hide herself from the galaxy and showing Shepard who she really is.

Tali ME3

Tali’Zorah: Mass Effect 3

Due to Shepard’s encounter with Alliance law for working with Cerberus in Mass Effect 2 and Tali’s obligations to her people following the suicide mission, Shepard and Tali are separated for a time following 2. Tali is absent from Mass Effect 3 until after the Cerberus attack on the Citadel. We first encounter her – now an admiral, replacing her father – when we travel to the Migrant Fleet in order to assess the situation at hand: that the quarians are planning on going to war with the geth. Similar to her loyalty mission in Mass Effect 2, a lot of this part of the game doesn’t have much to do with her so much as it does the geth and quarian conflict, so I’ll be overlooking a lot of the plot events. However, Tali hints to us that she can spare some time in Shepard’s private cabin to catch up. While doing so, Tali has some interesting things to say:

“Are you okay?”

“No. No, I’m really not. Seventeen million lives are riding on me…and I don’t know if I can save them.”

“Hey. You’re not alone.”

“This was supposed to be my father’s fight – but he left me with all of this. If they die, because of me? If…if I don’t…”

“We’ll get them out of there safely, Tali.”

“I couldn’t do this without you, Shepard. I feel like I’m bluffing – trying to convince them that the admiral’s daughter knows what she’s doing.”

“Not the admiral’s daughter. The admiral.”

Here, we see Tali starting to really feel that pressure of being the daughter of an admiral that we could detect hints of in Mass Effect 2. And, as Tali often does, she doubts herself and her capability.

Now, at this point, it seems crazy that she could still be in doubt of her abilities – she’s the most well-educated quarian in the entire Flotilla in regards to the geth, and she played a major role in both stopping Sovereign and Saren in Mass Effect and the Collectors in Mass Effect 2. But we have to remember what quarians are raised to be like – others first. Always. Tali struggles to see the fact that she, herself, is extraordinarily capable, because quarians rarely ever evaluate themselves. And that’s what makes Shepard such a “catalyst” for Tali’s character (especially in a romance). He serves to, time and time again, show Tali and remind her that she is capable, and that she is special – his love for her proves it.

Now, nothing more Tali-related really happens until you have to decide about the situation between the quarians and geth. While I’m not going to go into detail about it, since it’s not the choice you would choose in our assumed paragon play-through, I think the fact Tali commits suicide if you choose the geth over the quarians is a strong reminder that Tali, despite loving you, also loves her people, and can’t stand to live without them. And honestly? I like that. No matter how much she likes or loves Shepard, I’m glad that Tali doesn’t sacrifice what made her, her – before the relationship. I think her suicide is fitting for her character. If she had just moved on from her people practically going extinct, I would have felt the writing was not well done and would be criticizing BioWare here. Thankfully, they wrote in a reaction from her that is heart-wrenchingly realistic and fitting for her character.

Thankfully, though, by playing your cards right and not being an asshole to the quarians or the geth throughout the series, you can broker a peace between the two – at the sad cost of Legion having to sacrifice himself to give the geth people free will. In the aftermath of the conflict ending, Tali and Shepard share a moment to reflect on the future:

Overlooking Rannoch. 

“You okay? I know working with the geth will be difficult.”

“I’m not staying – I’m going with you.”

“I wasn’t going to ask…”

“Why not?”

“Because I respect you, dammit. You think I don’t want you to come with me?”

“I don’t know how much time we have left. I don’t know if we can beat the Reapers. But whatever happens…I want to be with you.”

This moment the pair share really tell us a lot about Tali’s loyalty and commitment to Shepard.

Now that her people have safely returned to Rannoch and are working with the geth, Tali is willing to leave all of it behind – just to help Shepard and be with him when he and the galaxy face the geth. This shows us how much she cares about him, and how important to her he is. And Shepard feels the same way.

Tali face.jpg
This different version of Tali’s face (not the stupid, stock photo of a model BioWare used) is a mod that can be found here for PC players.

The next big moment in the third game regarding Tali is when she gives you the photograph of her face to you. This is actually a big step up from Shepard just seeing her face in Mass Effect 2 – Tali feels comfortable enough, and loves and trusts Shepard so much, that she’s actually willing to give him a permanent image of herself to him for him to keep. To me, this is Tali permanently taking off her mask for Shepard in a way – it’s her way of saying, “You’re close enough to me that I want you to think of me like this, and not like how everyone else sees me.”

Final Moment.PNG
Shepard and Tali share one last night together before the Reaper counter-attack.

The next moment that I’m going to highlight is part of the final scene between Shepard and Tali, right before assaulting the Reapers at Earth:

“We’ve lost so much already…sometimes, I-“

“You don’t know if what’ll be left was worth the fight? I know. And when I think that way, I reach for you.”

This touching quote is when Tali makes it clear that Shepard is the person that Tali holds dearest to her heart. Shepard is her friend, her lover, and the person she trusts the most. With this statement, Tali is practically saying that Shepard has become the reason she wakes up every morning. The reason she fights. And to me, that’s an incredibly beautiful connection between the two. To Tali, Shepard is her everything – just like her people are.

And, last but certainly not least, there is one more quote I found significant. It’s when Shepard hurries Tali to the Normandy to evacuate her following Harbinger injuring her during the charge to the Citadel beam.

Forced to continue to the beam, Shepard must leave the injured Tali behind.

“I can’t stay behind…”

“Don’t argue with me, Tali!”

“Don’t leave me behind!”

“I need you to make it out of here alive, Tali. Get back to Rannoch…get yourself a home.”

“I have a home…come back to me.”

This final scene between Tali and Shepard finalizes everything the romance has been building up to: Tali feels the most at home being with Shepard. 

Tali loves, trusts, respects, and admires Shepard so much (and he feels this for her, as well) that she wants to be at his side, being her true self with him. And for perhaps the first time, Tali openly talks about what she wants – to stay with Shepard. She does this not because she’s selfish – we’ve already established that’s far from the truth – but because she loves Shepard so much that, just like  she couldn’t imagine life without her people, she couldn’t imagine life without him. And, given the circumstances of the ending of the game, I can’t think of a better way to conclude this character, and this relationship.


In summary, Tali is a selfless, strong-willed individual who stands up for what’s right, is loyal to her people, and isn’t afraid to speak her mind in debate, but doesn’t like to show her inner-self to other people. However, when other people show interest in her, she is deeply grateful for their kindness, and Commander Shepard in particular became Tali’s closest friend. Over time the two grew closer, close enough to fall in love – and the love, trust, and openness they showed each other led Tali to open herself up to Shepard, who, in turn, made sure Tali knew that to him, she was special. This helped Tali realize that she was special, and that she was hidden behind a mask of self-doubt and lack of self-confidence, which she learned to shed over time. In conclusion, Tali is the definition of a good person. And even if she had trouble seeing that at first, the relationship that she shared with Shepard helped her see just how happy she could make someone, and how happy they made her in return.

“After time adrift among open stars, along tides of light and through shoals of dust, I will return to where I once began.”

Wow! That was quite the article to write – I haven’t done one of these types of character studies before, so I hope you enjoyed my first foray into them!

Thank you very much for reading. If you like this article or any other I’ve written so far, feel free to follow the blog – I would appreciate it very much! Also, let me know what you liked or disliked about the analysis down below in the comments. I read every single one and I’d love to hear what you think.

Keelah se’lai.











3 thoughts on “Tali’Zorah nar Rayya — An In-Depth Character Analysis

  1. Heya!
    This is like my favourite character ever!
    This is literally a great in depth analysis which I loved to read and gave me so many good memories of first playing this game, this game is also my favourite game serious ever and I agree with everything you said.
    I only wish (I hope you agree) that we got too see more of this romance, like it’s perfect the way it is, but more of her singing and definitely more conversation between Shepard and her. I love the narrative of this section of the univers and this is literally the best couple ever, if male shep was a little less robotically (I mean I didn’t really care) but I mean between these two, it is great how the romance goes with how the game softly hints and strongly says that Talia looks up to him always.

    But were you stasified in the way it went, did they nail there romance, or did you want more parts to it, could be a dlc I would pay to see this and there are certainty other parts like where he could of hugged her in a friendly way when she cried, but I don’t know man I was tottally fine with it, your thoughts on this?


    1. Also sorry there is some English mistakes.


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