Sylvanas Windrunner (from WoW)

You know you would...don't lie

This does not only encompass Sylvanas, but many of the undead factions.  However, because Sylvanas is the biggest face to this problem, here goes.  Oh, wait, I lied.  One complaint right away: I HATE THE ZOMBIE NANNY VOICE!   I know that’s probably not something Blizzard has responsibility for, and her old voice is hard to top, but there it is, it can STILL bother me.  We good? Great. Moving on.

We first meet Sylvanas in Warcraft 3, where she is the Ranger General of Silvermoon.  Her duty is to stop the undead from conquering Quel’Thalas and gaining access to the Sunwell.

As a side note, the Sunwell is kind of like the Ring from Lord of the Rings, isn’t it? It always gains new powers and becomes more important expansion to expansion (until we hit Wrath, where it has become a useless macguffin).  Moving on!

Sylvanas fails, and…actually it’s become quite fuzzy in the canon what happened, did Arthas just kill her like originally in the game? Did he perform a ritual as some of the books prefer? Did he simply raise her as an undead monster like Frozen Throne retconned? (this last one is generally not repeated by Blizzard, saying she was indeed raised as a Banshee and then just repossessed her dead body….what? I liked the retcon better, at least it made sense…god help me for saying that). This is one of the problems with Blizzard.  On paper, for the rabid, foaming mouth frat boys into E-sports (Blizzard’s new goal for WoW), Blizzard’s policy for adopting “lore” instead of “canon” makes sense, since your fanbase doesn’t pay attention to it anyway. Having a fluid story where details can be changed and you only need the cliff notes is a good call (ESPECIALLY especially, when you rewrite entire regions and add new zones to a game like WoW).  Except Blizzard WANTS us to pay attention to it, otherwise they wouldn’t KEEP releasing novels and short stories to flesh out their lore.  As such, they don’t TELL us when they make retcons.  Suddenly, one day, new lore appears that contradicts other lore found in the game.  Hell, in the case of the Draenei, even AFTER Wrath of the Lich King came out, the books required for the “Well Read” achievement STILL said the Eredar corrupted Sargeras, not the other way around as Blizzard (for once) came out and said “The old stuff is obsolete, we’re operating under this story now” (I haven’t checked the books in a long while, there was one in Hammerfall if you’d like to check it for me?).  Blizzard even released a new trilogy to explain the Draenei’s roots and origins, and even adopted some of the concepts into the game for Burning Crusade, all in an effort to make the retcon work.  As boneheaded and arrogant as the DECISION to retcon the Draenei (rather, to merge the Draenei with the Eredar, and retcon the Eredar) was, the MANAGEMENT of that decision, to be fair, was well handled.

Yes, that’s a long tirade for “was Sylvanas a banshee or not?”, but the answer is? We’re still not really sure.  Blizzard hasn’t even defined what an Undead is.

“Well wait, Anna, that’s stupid.  An Undead is a living zombie/corpse”. Well, yes, but see Blizzard does things when it gets to the relationship between Undead and Soul.  A banshee is, essentially, a traumatically ripped soul out from its body.  Arthas uses a ritual to force Sylvanas’ spirit from her body to turn her into a Banshee (or does he?!).  But, some of the lore says that because Undead do not have souls, they cannot use the Holy Light.  The Runeblade description in the RPG book says, among other corruptions, “The recipient hears the Lich King’s voice inside his head.  The wielder then becomes Undead.  Finally he loses his soul to the blade.”

But you see the conflict? If a soul, the possession or absence, isn’t a prerequisite to be Undead then that could mean, some have souls and some do not.  If they CANNOT have their souls, what the hell are Banshees?  And clearly the Runeblade example for the Death Knights doesn’t count, right? Because in that order, losing one’s soul does not prerequisite being Undead.  Sometimes it is said that Undead lose their souls over time, but is that the soul? Or perhaps, a reflection of what they once were? In the Runeblade description, they aren’t losing their soul to being Undead, but to the Runeblade they carry.  So our only applicable example doesn’t really apply at all.

And that’s really what’s in question in Cataclysm: The state of Sylvanas’ soul.   Or perhaps even its existence.  Because the answer to that question is pretty much what will sway or discourage my stamp of approval (pressure’s on NOW BLIZZ!)

Well, enough preface, let’s talk about our leading lady.

Sylvanas’ real story begins in Warcraft 2, when Alleria Windrunner, her sister, leaves to Outland to do final battle with the Horde on Draenor.  She even gives her a locket, one of the Burning Crusade quests, before her departure (the quest would suggest soon before, though for an elf that could be, a couple of decades).

After Alleria leaves, never to return, Sylvanas assumes her role as Ranger General.  Judging from Sylvanas’ deep seated emotions regarding Alleria, and her persistent vision that she must still protect Silvermoon, even in Undeath, I don’t think I’m connecting too many dots when I say, these two issues are probably related.  Sylvanas’ constant need to prove she is just as good as her prodigy sister (kind of a Sasuke/Itachi thing going on) and fulfill the duty that sister left for her are probably at the root of what sparks such violent and passionate emotions in the Banshee Queen.  When it comes to Lordaeron, or the Legion, or any of the other nuisances that she has to deal with in the day to day management of the Undercity, she is usually displayed as cold and detached.  But when Silvermoon is involved, the writing for her takes a noted turn, it’s full of personality and determination.  In the final Blood Elf “starter” quest (regarding the death of Dar’Khan) she is moved and excited to see Silvermoon securing its position for the Horde.

Hell, don’t even stop there.  Sylvanas sends the Tranquillien regiment to the Ghostlands to help Lor’Themar deal with the Scourge, before Silvermoon is even a part of the Horde.  She is STILL attached to her mortal life this late in the game (if you’ll forgive the pun).

When Sylvanas turns Undead, she doesn’t choose to start a kingdom just because she wants power. No, she does it as a form of self-imposed exile.  “We are monsters. We cannot return to our homes for we do not belong anymore.  But neither must we surrender and die for the Lich King still lives.”  Lordaeron was a dead kingdom, no matter what Garithos might have thought.  Sylvanas seizes the Undercity, mind you, from the SCOURGE, NOT from Lordaeron’s patchwork forces.  So this is just one more step in her quest to destroy everything Arthas cares about.

Let’s, for comparison’s sake, look at Arthas.  Arthas didn’t even TURN Undead before he went on his rampage.  Or at least, he doesn’t seem to be Undead in the ending cinematic in WC3 compared to the others he appears in (like the Wrath intro, no I’m not counting the glowy eyes!).  The very next mission, he says (of the Lich King) “I have destroyed everyone, and everything I ever cared about in his name.  And yet I feel no pity. No remorse”

Arthas’ problems come less from his being Undead, and more being Anakin Skywalker in my estimation.  Yeah, I went there.  What?  He’s a spoiled brat who got hurt, and couldn’t get what he wanted (revenge), so his solution was to take the ruthless approach, not to care about the cost or consequences.  He even left his mentor for dead when he took up Frostmourne.

Arthas blows.  Well okay that’s a lie, I think my opinion of him tarnished when we had to play him for EIGHT HOURS STRAIGHT, all those ANNOYING voice overs every order you gave.  Split it up a bit, guys, for real (actually yes I know there was a fifth campaign being planned, it probably would have been in between Human and Undead, the Elf campaign likely), but we didn’t need him around for every mission.  Hell Illidan, and Grom break up the Elf and Orc campaigns, but the Human and Undead had no such equal, so it was ALL Arthas….I’m sidetracking again.

But the reason I bring up Arthas is that THIS is the dividing line we have to go by: Scourge and Forsaken, Arthas and Sylvanas.  Sylvanas is an emotional, noble Undead.  Arthas is decidedly not.

Wrath did not develop Sylvanas much….but it DID retcon her back to be more compassionate.  If they had not INTENTIONALLY done this, I might be predisposed to grudgingly accepting what happened to Sylvanas.

Very soon after Wrath, many of the quest texts in WowWiki still read from the vanilla days in regards to the Royal Apothecary Society.  But, before they were all rewritten in Cata, a major change was made.  And in fact, I noticed this first on the Kraul Guano quest, from RFK, but there were others that I saw that the RAS was directing, several in Silverpine, one or two from Tirisfal that I confirmed.

The smallest change, the simplest change, but it meant all the world in terms of motivations and character development.

Prior to Wrath, the RAS was described as the organization set up by Sylvanas to research a new plague, to the outside, and would be used to find a cure for Undeath.  The cure was a front, for show, while Sylvanas got ready to build a weapon for use against Scourge and living alike.

The turn in of the guano quest went something like this: “Excellent! I will get the necessary results to Sylvanas immediately!”

After Wrath of the Lich King came out, Blizzard reworded it.  THE SAME BLIZZARD, mind you, who did NOT update the lore books about the Eredar, even after such a massive change.

“Excellent! I will get the necessary results to Varimathras immediately!”

Yes.  Every single instance of Sylvanas’ name was dropped in favor of Varimathras, to better set up the coup in Undercity.  This changes everything though.  Because remember, these are PLAGUE quests, not “hostile takeover quests”.  Indeed! By making this one change Sylvanas is no longer copable in the creation of the Plague.  Why did she need to know about the coup and NOT the plague?  Wouldn’t she be really suspicious of it?

“But, Anna, the Apothecaries have bases in Northrend, wouldn’t she be approving those sites?”

Well, two reasons.  One, if Sylvanas really did intend the cover story, that the RAS was meant to FIGHT the Scourge plague, it only makes sense for the Horde to sponsor RAS camps throughout Northrend.  That is, after all, what they were “designed” to do: fight the Plague.  And, less likely but possible, two, in a medieval setting, steampunk or no, when everything regarding recordkeeping is a factor of trust, it wouldn’t be beyond Varimathras’ power, as Majordomo of the Undercity, to sponsor a small army and not be noticed.  These things can happen, and they still do in undeveloped regions of the world like Somalia and Afghanistan.  History is full of examples of certain individuals with their own armies under the nose of their government, Julius Caesar, Mitsuhide Akechi, Hannibal, Emperor Hadrian, all had their own militaries within their governments (admittedly, Hadrian and Caesar were Roman where that was pretty normal).

So by constantly leaving Sylvanas in the dark, she is given an utterly flawless alibi, absolved of wrongdoing by the creators.

Then comes Cata.

Sylvanas in Cata is the new Lich Queen.  The Ner’Zhul entity may be living inside Bolivar now, but his empty shoes are filled by Sylvanas.

This is another problem for me, the Horde just revels in its monstrosity now.  “Oh but Anna, Garrosh argues with her” Yeah, but he doesn’t go out of his way to STOP her from killing innocents and raising them as undead.  Better still, in the Call of Duty quests in Stonetalon, when the Horde nukes the druids? Garrosh makes a big deal about killing the non-combatants and kills the general on the spot.  I know, I was pretty fucking shocked too.  Not by the nuking, by the fact Garrosh knows what a non-combatant druid is considering his senseless murdering of them all was what led to the duel with Cairne.

So, no, Sylvanas is supposed to be on a fucking short leash.  Put her on one!  When did the Horde turn into the United Nations?  They’re supposed to be the ones WITH a centralized government.

Now, the Plague, I can understand.  Sylvanas may not be accountable for the CREATION of the Plague, but when the information is sitting right in front of you, the supplies are sitting in your damn Undercity, you might as well use it, I get that.  I don’t approve of her doing it, but I -understand-.

But, taking in the Val’Kyr, collecting refugees, and turning them into Forsaken, completely betrays the original idea of the Forsaken.  They weren’t pressed into service, they were a fraternity of the Undead.  In fact, when Sylvanas first formed the Forsaken, necromancy was BANNED.  It was a tool of slavery, of the Lich King, of the ENEMY.  It wasn’t until they discovered that the Forsaken, by virtue of being Undead, were incapable of Holy magics to heal that she even allowed the Shadow magics to be explored.  I’m not sure how much of this is lore anymore, but when the RPG first came out, it was the closest thing to gospel there was.  The Forsaken were unified by the fact that “Yeah, Undeath sucks on ice, but we might as well make the most of it”.  They converted people to join (the Bethor Iceshard quests, for instance), not enslave them if they didn’t choose sides.  They were alright with Undead going off on their own, but by staying united into a single faction they lowered their chances of being reabsorbed by the Scourge.  It was a nation built on mutual defense, and above all virtue, trying to stay above the base instincts of the mindless Undead.

I can understand a few of the arguments in favor of this change in Sylvanas. “Well, she’s looking at the big picture”.  To whit, I would say, she already was, hence why she conquered the Undercity instead of just taking off after Arthas for her emo revenge.  And of course “she’s thinking long term”. Maybe.  But Sylvanas said that they didn’t deserve to exist.  That they should just let themselves rot away. The Apothecaries are back to weaponizing plague agents, except this time under Sylvanas’ orders, not Varimathras’.

Think of the dramatic potential if it was that asshole Garrosh who was putting pressure on Sylvanas to expand, and hold onto her controlled territories. Without the Scourge, there would be few converts to the Undead, so, in desperation for fear of losing her grip on her own kingdom, something that’s already slipping away because, as Metzen said, she’s “in the doghouse” after the rebellion, she, as a last resort, turns to the Val’Kyr and starts down her path to corruption.  And, no, Metzen saying it in an interview does not count, not for every motivation! Maybe to fill in a detail, but something as big as “Why would Sylvanas put her entire kingdom in jeopardy?” shouldn’t be handled with a throw away line in an OOC source.

As it stands, all Sylvanas has to motivate her is “Well, the war’s over, time to expand!”  SHE is the instigator for the Gilneas campaign from everything we see in Cataclysm, not Garrosh, and not the Horde.

I started out writing this thinking I would be split, but this just reminds me how angry her transformation makes me.  Not for happening, but why it happened.  It wasn’t a story about corruption (not that we need MORE with Arthas, Illidan, Kael’Thas, Deathwing, Loken, Grom, Kel’Thuzad….), it was because Blizzard decided to axe the Scourge, but they still want their Undead stories.  So where do they go? The Ebon Blade and the Forsaken! They’re undead! We can make them soulless and heartless necromancers for their empires!

One of the more interesting analyses I’ve seen is that Sylvanas is an allegory of the story of Genesis.  She was born out of sin, and her scarred spirit compels her to be evil.  The thing is, if this is true, Metzen’s done a boneheaded job of it.  The way to write such a character is when they perform evil acts in the SERVICE of good.  Sylvanas does noble and honorable things (saving Quel’Thalas and Anveena, for no reward, and returning Lorna Crowley to her father instead of double crossing him) which is spaced with truly wicked things (the plague, murdering innocents).  She isn’t misguided, or apathetic to good and evil, she still maintains a loyal and humble soul.  When she is killed by Godfrey, and the Val’kyr resurrect her by sacrificing themselves, she assures their loyalty to the Forsaken wouldn’t be dismissed.  And when Arthas is killed, she even says “May Azeroth never fail to remember that terrible price we paid for our weakness….for our pride.”   Even with the hand of Metzen looming over her, Sylvanas STILL understands the Lich King better than anyone else alive…er…you know what I mean!  She is fully conscious of what it means to be the damned.

I know I’ve been ragging on this a lot, but Sylvanas’ story is still good.  If you want to forgive the way it has been pushing the square peg into the circular hole.  And since I’m a petty little sadist….no, I don’t think I can.

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