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I've been having Companions as followers for a while but many of them die during quests. I took Athis with me during the Civil War quest and he tragically died - only to show up later on in the game back at the Jorrvaskr! I felt horrendous when he died so I'd abstained from using Companions as followers and such, until I realized that Athis had respawned and the Companions appear not to die quite permanently. I also experienced Aela, Torvar and Njada's deaths but they haven't respawned yet. :/ So now I'm worrying it might be a glitch.

Is this true? Has anybody else experienced this?

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Yes, they can die permanently.

Followers are considered protected NPC's, meaning they cannot die unless lethal damage is given by the player (so you killed all those people, didn't you?). Once dead though, there is no special behaviour with respawning or such compared to any other npc. See this page for more information.

If he did indeed die and respawn, it could be a glitch or bug (unless you are mistaken).

Note that the members of The Circle are essential (and as such cannot be killed by any means) until finishing the Companions quest line.

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