Character Spotlight: Arthas Menethil - The Book is Closed on an Iconic Villain (spoilers)
Love him or hate him, Arthas Menethil, the Lich King, was a great character, a great villain, and a favorite of many. His end in
the post-fight cinematic
for the Anduin fight in Sepulcher of the First ones sees his legacy finally put to rest.
Who was Arthas? Arthas Menethil was the son of a king, expected to take the throne and rule in his own right when the day came. His life was planned. He would be a smart, educated king. He would be a great fighter for his people. He would be a servant of the Light. He would be a role-model in every way, a golden prince. This isn't a future he got to choose, this is how it was. Any way you look at it, this was a huge burden for a small boy. Arthas was a clumsy fighter, a so-so student who felt sidelined by his father, and a reluctant paladin who was uninspired by the Light. He was impulsive, headstrong, and reckless. As a child he saw first-hand what the death of a king meant for a crown prince when Prince Varian sought refuge with Arthas' family after the fall of Stormwind. It must have been terrifying. As a young man, although he had managed to overcome most of his challenges, they still took a toll. What he lacked in self-confidence he compensated for with ego. And he had a lot of ego.
A Boy and His Horse
The final blow to who Arthas was as a person came with the devastating death of his horse, Invincible. Arthas had witnessed the birth of Invincible and the boy and colt grew and learned together. Invincible died suffering due to Arthas' poor judgement, riding recklessly in icy conditions. The sorrow and the guilt broke Arthas. One of Arthas' first acts, as soon as he was able, was to resurrect Invincible; they could not be together in life, but in death they could ride. It is no coincidence that the music that plays at Arthas' death in
Wrath of the Lich King
Arthas was a prime candidate for control by the Jailer: well placed, powerful, and with deep feelings of inadequacy and a need to prove himself.
Arthas the Pawn, Anduin the Puppet
Anduin, a young man in a similar position, couldn't have been more different than Arthas. Self-confident, sure in the Light, and self-assured enough to choose a different path than his father, Anduin was not, despite what the Jailer may have thought, a good candidate to be a pawn. The Jailer manipulated Arthas, yes, and offered him power, but Arthas saw the opportunity. He took the Jailer's power to compensate for his own weaknesses. He did the Jailer's bidding as a means to an end, even when he disagreed with the methods. He killed his father, he culled his people, he became the Lich King, and in doing so became one of the greatest villains of all time. The Jailer had to fully possess Anduin to control him, and Anduin fought him the entire way. The difference between Anduin the puppet, and Arthas the pawn was agency, and Arthas was all in. There is one other major difference between the two which became the Jailer's undoing: the mourneblades that bound them. Frostmourne was created by the Runecarver to be a blade of Domination. The Jailer, in his hubris, created Kingsmourne using Anduin's own sword, Shalamayne, infused with the remainder of Arthas' soul. This link to his heritage gave Anduin the strength to overcome domination.
The Lich King
As the Lich King, Arthas was a fantastic villain. Every epic story needs one, and he was one of the best. Dark, looming, powerful, terrifying, he was an absolutely brilliant character. He deserved every bit of love those who consider him their favorite give. But being a good character and being a good person should not be confused. Arthas was a terrible person. He may have had reason; he may have been fertile ground for evil because of his experiences, but ultimately he made the decision to go that route, and reveled in his power as the Lich King. Loving him for what he was as a character is easy, apt, and appropriate, and this should never be confused with loving him for who he was as a person. The Lich King was a genocidal maniac bent on domination. In the end he became a weapon, a tool, as he always had been. Kingsmourne. He deserved no grander end.
Fade to Black
Ultimately the fact that Kingsmourne was Shalamayne, albeit with a bit of Arthas, played a huge part in Anduin being able to resist the Jailer, and in the end, the two parts of the sword wrenched apart, Arthas remains as just a ball of blue Anima, the remnant of a mourneblade. Is it really him? Or is he long gone? Does it have any consciousness? Or is it just a remnant of a being who shone so very brightly?
Witness to this last bit of his being, beyond life and beyond death are three people who felt very strongly about him. Jaina who loved him but couldn't condone his actions. Uther who taught him and was finally betrayed and killed by him. Sylvanas whose people were slaughtered, whose home was destroyed, and who was turned into an enslaved abomination by him. Jaina and Uther are both stunned that this is what was left. "Is this all that remains of him?" Jaina asks. "The last flicker of his scarred spirit, consumed in the forges of the Jailer," replies Uther. Both of them are seeing the end of Prince Arthas, someone they knew and loved. It is Sylvanas who gives his eulogy, a eulogy for the Lich King.
No crown, no throne, not even a soul left for judgement. I hated you. Hunted you. And with each selfish act, became you. That is my burden to bear... But your legacy... is at an end. Begone, then, Arthas Menethil. May the last whisper of your name fade... and be forgotten.
It is striking that all three of them are sad. There is no anger, no outrage, just the utter sadness at the tragedy of this life. Once again, the music is
, a requiem for a boy and his horse. It is fitting that we do not see an image of Arthas at this point. This isn't his story, there is no need for him to upstage the current players. At no point in the story of the Shadowlands has Arthas even been conscious, for that to change now would be incongruous. Once his story ends at the Frozen Throne he is gone.
The Ranger General in the Room
Sylvanas rides the line between Arthas and Anduin. Sylvanas was damaged and accepted the Jailer's power as a pawn, just like Arthas. Like Arthas she did the Jailer's bidding as a means to an end, in her case, a promised end. But unlike Arthas, when she realized that she'd been had, she resisted. The Jailer let her go comparatively easily; he no longer needed her, he had Anduin. Sylvanas did terrible things as a pawn of the Jailer. She too became a wonderful villain, but a very different villain. As a player on our side, a member of the Horde, she hit us right where it hurt and divided the fan base into those who detest her for what she did, and those who love her for who they know she is. Once she regained the parts of her that were missing and was able to clearly see what was happening, she, like Anduin, was horrified.
This story, Shadowlands, is about Sylvanas. She made a deal with the Jailer, she committed atrocities at his bequest, she breached the veil, she is the reason we came to the Shadowlands. Her terrible acts and ultimate realization of her hubris are part of her Hero's Journey in the classic sense. The eulogy she gives allows her the opportunity to take back who she was, accept responsibility for what she has done, and move forward to finally defeat the real villain behind the curtain.
Some question the decision to make Arthas' final moments focus on Sylvanas with no opportunity for Uther and Jaina to share their thoughts. Uther and Jaina are certainly huge players in Arthas' story. But this is not Arthas' story. This story is about Sylvanas and this moment is about how she moves forward.
Those who do not remember history are doomed to repeat it, so, with apologies to Sylvanas, let us remember Arthas. Fatih Topuz put together this very fine composition to bid farewell to an iconic villain.
Good night, sweet prince. In the end you were just a sickly boy hidden deep in the mind of an evil man. May that boy forever ride a white horse across green pastures, and never in the snow.
You can read more about Arthas, Invincible, and the events that turned him into the Lich king in the novel
Arthas, Rise of the Lich King
by Christie Golden.
For more in-depth analysis on the cinematic referenced in this article check out these excellent analyses by Wowhead lore writer, Discordiankitty, and Taliesin of Taliesin & Evitel:
Cinematic Analysis of the Anduin Raid Finale (Spoilers) The Pathetic End of Arthas Menethil, and the True Meaning of Shadowlands
For Uther and Jaina's thoughts on Arthas, talk to Uther in Korthia, and for more about their stories check out our lore guides:
The Lore of Jaina Proudmoore The Lore of Uther the Lightbringer
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