Interpreting Alex Afrasiabi's Statement on Sylvanas and the Wrathgate
which confirmed Sylvanas' involvement in the Wrathgate, there has been much controversy and speculation as to her exact role and if this changes her character. In this post, we'll take a look at Sylvanas' possible motivations, various interpretations of the Wrathgate quote, and why it was so shocking even though we've known for a while in
that she had some involvement.
Let's first review the statements made in
on the situation:
"I've heard these discussions on the internet about 'she's going off the rails', but is she? I've been writing Sylvanas personally since 2006, and this is pretty much - the Wrathgate and the Blight and the Forsaken - in character. Those were all under Sylvanas' orders. What we're seeing now is an escalation of the plans Sylvanas has, clearly, and we're in the middle of that."
Chronicle Volume III:
Like most good lies, Sylvanas Windrunner's account of the rebellion in the Undercity contained some truth. Grand Apothecary Putress truly had attempted to overthrow her, and Varimathras truly was trying to claim the Forsaken in the name of the Burning Legion.
But the plague had been created at her direction. Sylvanas was willing to take vengeance against the Lich King at any cost, even by making a weapon as deadly as the plague. Whether she was aware that Putress and Varimathras were planning to use the concoction remained a mystery. Rumors persisted that she knew about the attack at the Wrathgate beforehand, and her denials did not assuage the doubts of her detractors.
Comparing both quotes, it seems the Eurogamer interview moved Sylvanas' direct involvement in the Wrathgate from a "maybe" to a "yes"--but as the Wrathgate was an incredibly complex event, it's still unclear how much of it she planned.
What Happened at the Wrathgate
At the start of Wrath of the Lich King, the Alliance and Horde attacked Northrend from different zones, gradually meeting up in Dragonblight. Here, the two factions agreed to work together to attack Angrathar the Wrathgate, a key location that served as a gateway into Icecrown. Led by Highlord Bolvar Fordragon and Warlord Dranosh Saurfang, the troops made some progress fighting the early waves of the Lich King's forces--although it all went south very quickly when the Lich King made an appearance, summoned by Fordragon.
In short order, the Lich King killed Dranosh Saurfang, and before he could fight Bolvar, the Forsaken rained down plague upon the battlefield. Many Alliance and Horde troops perished, and the Lich King was seriously wounded. The red dragons from the nearby Wyrmrest Temple purified the area, cleansing the entire battlefield. Although Bolvar, his body badly burnt by the purifying flames, survived in a limbo between life and death, he was captured by the Scourge.
You can see a full list of quests on the
Players then completed the special
Battle for the Undercity
questline, which can no longer be completed in Battle for Azeroth.
fought through the Undercity to unseat Varimathras and Putress, restoring power to Sylvanas.
, suffering major losses as a result of the plague, viewed the battle as a betrayal by the entire Horde, and attacked the Undercity with the hope of reclaiming it for the Alliance. Along the way, Varian discovers mutilated human corpses and realizes that the Forsaken were secretly creating a plague during years of the faction truce. The Battle for the Undercity ended with a declaration of war and clash between the faction leaders, only stopped by Jaina teleporting the Alliance out.
King Varian Wrynn: I was away for too long. My absence cost us the lives of some of our greatest heroes. Trash like you and this evil witch were allowed to roam free -- unchecked.
The time has come to make things right. To disband your treacherous kingdom of murderers and thieves. Putress was the first strike. Many more will come.
I've waited a long time for this, Thrall. For every time I was thrown into one of your damned arenas... for every time I killed a green-skinned aberration like you... I could only think of one thing.
What our world could be without you and your twisted Horde... It ends now, Warchief.
ATTACK! FOR STORMWIND! FOR BOLVAR! FOR THE ALLIANCE
Lady Jaina Proudmoore: VARIAN, NO! STOP!
Lady Jaina Proudmoore: It did not have to be like this...
Thrall : It ends like it began...
All that we have fought for in this world is lost. The hopes and dreams carried by my father and mother... by Doomhammer... Gone...
If only you were here right now, old friend. You would know what to do.
Overlord Saurfang: I know what he would do.
He would say to you what I am about to say to you: Thrall. Lead your people.
Let's go home, old friend.
This action would later haunt her through the years, as seen in the Thros scenario.
King Varian Wrynn says: You were at my side in the Undercity. We had them cornered! Justice was within my grasp!
King Varian Wrynn says: I could have ended them all! Sylvanas... Thrall... Think what our world could have been without them and their twisted Horde!
King Varian Wrynn says: But you... You stayed my blade. How many Alliance soldiers died that day? And in all the battles that followed?
Jaina says: All because of me...
Sylvanas' Possible Motivations
Based on Chronicle, we know that Sylvanas created the plague. Sylvanas was no stranger to poison and experiments, as time and time again we see her utilize blight and the Royal Apothecary Society in the Undercity was filled with experiments. Sylvanas creating the plague to use against Arthas, even at a high-stakes moment like the Wrathgate which would also lead to loss of Alliance and Horde life, fits her character. She's also used poison against the Lich King previously with some success, paralyzing him in place with a poisoned arrow in
Sylvanas Windrunner - You walked right into this one, Arthas. It's time to even the scales.
King Arthas - Traitor! What have you done to me?
Sylvanas Windrunner - It's a special poisoned arrow I made just for you. The paralysis you're experiencing now is but a fraction of the agony you've caused me.
King Arthas - Finish me, then.
Sylvanas Windrunner - A quick death... like the one you gave me? No. You're going to suffer as I did. Thanks to my arrow, you can't even run. Give my regards to hell, you son of a bitch.
There is another way to interpret the quote, which is that in ordering the Wrathgate, Sylvanas masterminded more than just the plague. This would include not just using the plague, but also orchestrating Putress and Varimathras to use the plague at that exact moment, dealing blows to major Alliance and Horde figures, and then dumping all the blame on those two characters to avoid controversy. Sylvanas could have planned to use the blight to defeat the Lich King, and if unsuccessful, she would then frame Putress and Varimathras to remove them from power in the ensuing Battle for the Undercity.
Varimathras' quotes from Antorus suggest there's unfinished business with him and Sylvanas. Of course, as he's no big fan of Sylvanas, he could be twisting the situation to sow further discontent, even after his death:
Varimathras: So, your Alliance still endures. Longer than I expected, though she has already planted the seeds of its downfall. She is patient, that one.
Varimathras: When your thrones run red with betrayal... when your holy places burn and the shattered mask hangs above your hearth... only then you will know. And it will be too late.
Varimathras: It matters not. You are blind to the true darkness closing in around you.
Varimathras: So, she found me at last. Sent her underlings to finish the job.
Varimathras: Tell me, when she seized your throne of hides and bones, was your allegiance forced? No... I'd wager you surrendered it willingly... or were convinced you did.
Varimathras: It matters not. You are blind to the darkness in your midst.
In spite of the massive loss of life and increased faction tensions, we don't believe that Sylvanas' motivations at the Wrathgate were to damage Alliance and the Horde--it was to take out the Lich King at any cost. The Wrathgate should not be viewed as an early step in her Battle for Azeroth masterplan. Keep in mind that in Wrath of the Lich King, she is incredibly driven to take down Arthas--so driven, that when the Lich King is defeated, she believes her purpose is done and throws herself off Icecrown Citadel seeking final death.
From the short story
"Edge of Night"
Sylvanas stepped back, the wind whipping her hair and snapping her frayed cloak. The memories of who she had been and what she had become closed a knot in her stomach, and she moved now to unravel it. No more would she be the vengeful leader of a mongrel race of rotted corpses. Her work was done, and her long-denied reward awaited her. Longing for that forgotten bliss, she allowed herself to fall backward from the top of Icecrown Citadel. The wind rushed past her, a growing wail. The pinnacle, and the silent Val'kyr at its peak, disappeared…
Her body burst on the saronite stones below with a crushing finality.
So while she may have schemed to unseat Varimathras and Putress as a back-up plan if the Wrathgate failed, any ulterior motives to divide or weaken the Alliance and Horde were likely not part of the plan. Post-Wrath Sylvanas, however, is back with a new purpose--one to avoid eternal torment in death, trapped with Arthas in the Void.
She saw only darkness.
And then she felt—truly felt, for the first time in a long while. She recoiled. In agony.
Here she was, her spirit once again feeling whole, only to feel it suffer. To feel once more, only to feel abject pain. Cold. Hopelessness.
There were others in the darkness. Things she didn't recognize, because nothing so terrible could exist in the world of the living. Claws tore at her, but she had no mouth with which to scream. Eyes looked at her, but she couldn't look back.
She sensed a familiar presence. Recognized it. The taunting voice that had once held her in its grasp. Arthas? Arthas Menethil? Here? His essence rushed to her, desperate, then shrank away in horrified recognition. The boy who would be Lich King. Just a scared little blond child, reaping the aftermath of a lifetime of mistakes. If any part of Sylvanas's soul were not at that moment torn and tormented, she might have even felt—for the first time—the slightest glimmer of pity for him.
In the grand landscape of all the world's suffering and all the evils of the infinite, the Lich King was… insignificant.
Now the others had her. Surrounded her. Gleeful, tormenting, tearing at her consciousness, delighting in her suffering.
This was to be her eternity: the endless void, the dark, unknown realm of anguish.
Using the Blight at Wrathgate
It's a difficult question but one that must be asked: Was using the blight at Wrathgate a bad idea? Knowing how the battle turned out, the addition of the blight added to the tragedy, destroying Alliance and Horde troops alike. In addition to the massive loss of life, it also worsened tensions between the Alliance and Horde, weakening forces at a key time.
However...the blight nearly defeated the Lich King. If the blight HAD killed the Lich King, would Sylvanas have been hailed as a hero? The blight was the first act that seriously damaged the Lich King, forcing him to retreat.
It is unclear if the outcome of the Wrathgate would have changed without the presence of the blight. Before the blight was dropped, Fordragon and Saurfang were botching things pretty badly. Fordragon demanded the Lich King show his face, who promptly did and killed Dranosh Saurfang in seconds without any assistance from the blight. All the Lich King had to do was taunt Saurfang, who then foolishly retaliated and ended up dead, his soul pulled into Frostmourne. Before the blight was dropped, the Horde had lost their leader on the battleground.
If Bolvar, next to Saurfang, then suffered a similar death, he would have ended up in a similar fate in Icecrown Citadel--or even worse. We could have been fighting Bolvar as a Death Knight in Icecrown, one of the Lich King's most powerful servants. It's unclear if the Alliance and Horde could have survived both Bolvar and Saurfang, and even if we did defeat DK Bolvar and fought our way to the Lich King, there'd be no convenient stand-in to pick up the mantle of the Lich King after his defeat.
It would be interesting to learn the current Lich King's take on the situation--would Bolvar have preferred a fate to that of Saurfang--falling in battle at the Lich King's hand, forced to fight his friends in the Alliance, and finally getting eternal rest? Or does he prefer how things ultimately went--instead falling in battle to the blight, burned beyond recognition, later captured by the Scourge, tortured, and finally agreeing to serve as the Lich King as a heroic sacrifice?
Player and In-Game Reaction Parallels
The reaction to the Eurogamer interview generated a lot of shock from fans fearing that Sylvanas was pushed from morally grey to evil in this retcon. This announcement comes at a time when the
Patch 8.1 story
on the PTR sees many Horde leaders grow more vocal in their displeasure of her leadership style.
These reactions have interesting similarities. We know Sylvanas and the Forsaken use blight and we can see the Royal Apothecary Society's experiments in the Undercity...why are we shocked to learn it was part of the Wrathgate? Why does the interview statement bother us in December 2018, even though it was described in
months earlier? Why are the Horde leaders suddenly upset by Sylvanas raising and torturing one
fallen Alliance hero
on the 8.1 PTR, when they supported the Burning of Teldrassil? Even in Legion, an expansion of relative faction unity, Sylvanas tortured and killed a civilian simply to grant Nathanos a new appearance. But the release of the
"Dark Mirror" story
didn't create similar widespread outcry.
Sylvanas has always been determined to achieve her goals at any cost--and that was even true back in Wrath. With the threat of eternal damnation in the Shadowlands looming over Sylvanas' future, as well as a dwindling amount of Val'kyr, her goals in a post-Arthas world are focused on survival and mastering death. The Sylvanas players met in early WoW was focused on defeating Arthas, a noble goal which set up a perfect revenge story and made her a fan-favorite among players of both factions.
But after the defeat of the Lich King, her goals have changed--and they're not ones that are favorable to all factions and players. Sylvanas has been heavily defined through the Arthas story, seen as a character with a tragic past using any means possible to succeed against an evil figure. However, in Battle for Azeroth, we are seeing that she applies that same drive and ruthlessness towards goals that don't necessarily align with player interests. She is still incredibly charismatic and a great strategist--we are learning that it's terrifying to be on the receiving end of her wrath.
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