Sylvanas in Shadowlands - Edge of Night, Jailer of the Damned, and Vol'jin's Mystery
World of Warcraft: Shadowlands
expansion announced at BlizzCon 2019 has raised a whole new set of questions regarding where the story will go next, particularly as we continue to hunt down the Banshee Queen Sylvanas Windrunner. Her actions in the cinematic trailer, and what we've learned about the expansion in the panels since, is finally starting to tie together some of the loose plot points teased throughout
Battle for Azeroth
, as well as create some interesting topics of discussion, which we hope will pique your interest as much as it grabbed ours.
We've also learned that Sylvanas started her partnership with the Jailer in the short story "Edge of Night," which many players may be unfamiliar with as the events completely took place out-of-game, and re-reading the story, it's essential to understanding Sylvanas' current motivations. Spoilers and speculation below!
We always thought the Jailer of the Damned was the Lich King, but we were misled. The spirit of Terenas lI, upon defeating the Lich King, told us someone must always wear the crown to keep the Scourge from overrunning our world.
Terenas Menethil II: Without its master's command, the restless Scourge will become an even greater threat to this world.
Terenas Menethil II: Control must be maintained...There must always be...a Lich King...
Bolvar Fordragon: The dragons' flame... sealed my fate... The world of the living can no longer comfort me.
Bolvar Fordragon: Place the crown upon my head, Tirion. Forevermore - I will be the jailer of the damned.
While the Lich King did keep the Army of the Dead in check, it was an army of Arthas' own making when the mad prince sacrificed his followers in Northrend, razed his way through Lordaeron, and slaughtered the elves of Silvermoon. Although condemned by his actions, they were never truly the damned we were warned about. That title belongs to a much larger army revealed at BlizzCon 2019 - the result of decades of unceasing war, thousands slain in battle after bloody battle, bodies buried and lives forgotten as their spirits moved on; taken to the Shadowlands.
Most souls aren't guided back by Spirit Healers or resurrected by Priests, they make their way to another world, a mirror of our own where the dead outnumber the living; shepherded by godlike figures on Azeroth such as Bwonsamdi, Helya, Odyn, and the Lich King, but they are little compared to the Jailer himself, the mysterious figure who lays claim to the Maw of the Shadowlands and ownership of the innumerable spirits which make their way to the other side.
Q: Identity of mysterious jailer - is he someone that we know connected to death i.e. Argus or Helya?
A: Intended to be a mysterious new figure - not someone we've met before but an important part of the cosmology of the Warcraft universe. Applying what we know about the universe to a new place. He's a centerpiece villain of this expansion.
In a cruel twist of fate, it was the Lich King himself who protected the doorway to this realm, these Shadowlands. The Frozen Throne is a place where the seam between our realities wears thin, perhaps contributing to his own power over the undead scourge. This connection between realms was hinted at in the
BFA Vol'jin questline
, when we journeyed to Icecrown and learned that Icecrown was an anchor between Shadowlands and Azeroth (
The Warnings and Misdirection
One of our earliest warnings about Sylvanas came from Varimathras, a boss in Antorus the Burning Throne at the end of the Legion expansion. Varimathras not only predicted the faction conflict in Battle for Azeroth, but also warned us that the succession of power from Vol'jin to Sylvanas was not surrendered willingly. We are "blind to the true darkness" which in retrospect refers to Sylvanas' pact with the Jailer and her continued growth.
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.
Then in Patch 7.3.5, we encounter
. While the "Lady wrapped in dark swirlies" was always a clear reference to Sylvanas, the latter part of his description, in light of the Shadowlands reveal, is also a warning. Sylvanas loyalists (the sheep) willingly participated in the Fourth War which led to more carnage and death (stupid sheepies), feeding the Maw more souls (crows getting fat).
Ogmot sees lady wrapped in dark swirlies. She leads herd of blind sheep.
Da sheepies follow her everplace she go. Do everthin she say. Never doubt lady.
She guide dem over tall cliff! SPLAT SPLAT SPLAT! Stupid sheepies!
Da crows get fat eatin da sheepflesh. Da lady laugh as crows eat!
In Patch 8.1.5, N'Zoth also gave us a warning, though like most Old God whispers we ignored it as an attempt at manipulation, even though virtually all of those whispers have eventually proven true.
The veil wanes. His crown will open the way.
Obsessed with the Faction War at the time, we thought it
referred to Anduin or perhaps even the Tempest Crown
which Xal'atath tricked us into bringing to N'Zoth in the first place. So far removed from the events of
Wrath of the Lich King
, we forgot that Bolvar too wore a crown, and when we
after conferring with Bwonsamdi and the spirit of Vol'jin, the Lich King echoed Bwonsamdi's concerns about Sylvanas and the disrupt of balance.
Sylvanas revealed that she was in league with Azshara, but while they were temporarily aligned, the Naga Queen was just a stepping stone. As we see in
datamined 8.3 broadcast text
, a flashback N'Zoth shows us during his final phase, Sylvanas' ultimate plan involves "unleashing darkness" and it's one Azshara doesn't quite approve of:
: We have a bargain, then. I will bring both fleets crashing to the ocean floor, and your champion will deliver the dagger to me.
: And in turn, you will have the key required to free the Old God from his bonds... and leave him vulnerable.
: You wound me, Warchief. After all, I am as dedicated to my master as you are to your subjects.
: Indeed. Just be certain that once you have what you need, you dispose of your guests. Let none of the "heroes" escape.
: I admire your ruthlessness, Windrunner. It seems our interests are aligned... at present.
: At present.
: Treacherous Banshee! Do you think I am blind to the darkness you seek to unleash?
We also find and free Azshara in the
Dark Inquisitor Xanesh
encounter, and curiously, she's not interested in staying around to defeat N'Zoth. Instead, she is after the "true throne of power" and based on her disapproval of Sylvanas, may even be heading to the Frozen Throne and Shadowlands to thwart her plans as well.
Now go and do what you will. I tire of intermediaries and heralds. The true throne of power beckons, and I intend to claim it.
The true throne of power
, believed to be the most terrible being left on Azeroth, is
N'Zoth. Sylvanas isn't even present in Nya'lotha, she's already abandoned the Horde and clearly has no care for Azshara or N'Zoth; her sights are set on something greater - as we see in the Shadowlands cinematic trailer during her confrontation with Bolvar.
The Edge of Night
Sylvanas had clearly found a new source of power, and while we thought it to be N'Zoth, that power clearly isn't diminished by our eventual victory over the Old God, as we see her continue to use the same purple void-tinged magic which took down Varok Saurfang against Bolvar in the
Shadowlands Cinematic Trailer
, defeating the Lich King's forces with ease. She appears to be even stronger since the Fourth War, as the Jailer has absorbed all the fallen souls from the Ny'alotha campaign in the interim months.
The Val'kyr were also once a major part of the Lich King's power; originally created by Odyn to shepard the spirits of the dead from the Shadowlands to the Halls of Valor, the Lich King found a way to raise his own breed of Scourge Val'kyr to build and control his army. Sylvanas made her way to the Frozen Throne in order to confront the Lich King in "
Edge of Night
", though she arrived too late to see Arthas' fall and replacement by Bolvar. In her rage and despair, she threw herself from the top of the Frozen Throne onto the saronite spikes below in an attempt to end her torment for good. Instead, she found herself in an empty void, a place of perpetual horror and darkness, which shook her so deeply she pledged to avoid forevermore. The Val'kyr gave her a way out, binding themselves with her rather than the Lich King to keep her from that place. The Val'kyr's motivations though are still something of a mystery.
"We are bound to the will of the dormant Lich King. Imprisoned atop Icecrown, possibly for eternity. We hunger for our freedom, as you once hungered for yours." Annhylde knelt beside Sylvanas, the other Val'kyr clustering around the pair of them, arms linked. "We need a vessel. One like us. A sister of war. Strong. Who understands life and death. Who has seen the light and the dark. Someone worthy—worthy of power over life and death."
"We need you," repeated Agatha, her black hair floating freely in the light.
"My sisters will be free, free of the Lich King forever, but their souls will be bound to yours," Annhylde continued. "Sylvanas Windrunner, Dark Lady, queen of the Forsaken… you may walk with the living again through the sisterhood of the Val'kyr. As long as they live, so too shall you. Freedom, life… and power over death. This is our pact. Do you accept our gift?"
Why they would bind themselves to Sylvanas, which immediately killed one and additionally lead to the loss of 5 more of the original 9, is something of a mystery, but given the Val'kyr's connection with the Shadowlands it would stand to reason that the Val'kyr share some kind of connection to the mysterious Jailer as well, especially as we see Sylvanas flanked by Val'kyr in the parting Shadowlands features cinematic shot of her with the Jailer.
It would stand to reason that this was the Jailer's first step in courting her, directing the Val'kyr to join Sylvanas in order to keep her alive, setting her down the path to "master death", which would ultimately lead back to him in the Shadowlands. If the Jailer knew that path would eventually lead Sylvanas back to the Frozen Throne, and that she would need to defeat Bolvar in order to use his crown in order to open the path to the Shadowlands, then weakening the Lich King by realigning his most powerful allies with Sylvanas was a stroke of genius and this game has been afoot longer than anyone, perhaps even Sylvanas, realized!
The Maw and Shadowlands
While beautiful in many ways, the Shadowlands are a realm of death. It is heaven, hell, and everything in between depending on who takes you there and why. We've already seen a wide range of creatures and environments which inhabit it, and each one would seem to share a lot in common with the various forces which control death in Azeroth.
The gleaming spires of Bastion are all too reminiscent of Odyn's Halls of Valor.
The eternal forest of Ardenweald feeds the spirits of nature in an endless cycle of rebirth, much in the same way as the Emerald Dream.
The necromantic obsession with undeath in Maldraxxus has obvious parallels to the Scourge and Cult of the Damned.
Revendreth is a gothic, vampiric place reminiscent of the San'layn originally raised by Arthas.
While some of these associations would seem more direct than others, it's hard to shake the similarities, and it would not be at all surprising to find some central connection between them. However, there's a fifth part of the Shadowlands which is even more pertinent to our speculation -
. From Blizzard's description:
To be cast into the Maw is to be doomed to a bleak eternity. It is a tumultuous, hopeless land where the vilest souls in the cosmos are imprisoned forever.
Which is uncannily similar to Sylvanas' experience after her suicide atop the Frozen Throne. From
Edge of Night
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.
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.
What place is left for her spirit go but the Maw, the seat of the Jailer's power? While we still don't quite understand the circumstances, there's far too much commonality to believe it to be coincidence - Sylvanas' experience in the Maw from which the Jailer resides, the Val'kyr's association with the Jailer and subsequent pact with Sylvanas, her new found quest to master death, and eventual trip back to Icecrown to open the path to the Shadowlands. Everything seems to have been leading up to this moment, though Sylvanas' final motives are still unclear.
Q: Did the jailer in The Maw see the Legion as a threat which is why Sylvanas worked with Varian?
A: We'll find out more of her motivations in Shadowlands and that her relationship with the Jailer dates back a bit. Edge of Night story involves this relationship. Working with Varian was a long term strategy in order to get Warchief - had to make allies but now we're seeing the fruition of that.
So she's been working with the Jailer for quite a while, and Edge of Night was a part of that relationship, lending further evidence to the theory that she ended up in the Maw, but it's not quite clear exactly what their goals are and if he manipulated her into his service to avoid the Maw, or if the Jailer is her final target - as who else would be the "master of death", but the Jailer which presides over the very realm in which deceased spirits dwell?
Sylvanas in Legion
The reveal that Sylvanas has been working together with the Jailer since Cataclysm fills in some plot holes from Legion.
Some mysterious power manipulated Vol'jin into
naming Sylvanas as Warchief
, and then kept his spirit from truly moving on to the other side. In
Bwonsamdi, the Loa of Death himself, refers to an unknown boss who we now have to assume is the Jailer.
When Vol'jin fell at the Broken Shore, he sensed something was wrong, as his connection to the loa was dimmed. In retrospect, this was likely the presence of the Jailer drowning out the other voices of the loa and forcing Vol'jin to listen to him:
Vol'jin: Sometin' not be right dat day. Da demons, deir blades slipped past me guard.
Vol'jin: As if da loa demselves had forsaken me.
Vol'jin: Like dey be doin' now. Cannot hear dem, champion. Da voices of da loa be silent.
Vol'jin: I been callin' ta Bwonsamdi for a long time. He not be hearin' me... or he been choosin' not ta answer.
Vol'jin: Somethin' was definitely helping' our enemies dat day. But who or what could dat have been? Da loa were silent and their powers were gone, as if I'd lost their favor. With so much death, I be havin' one person in mind who might be behind it.
Vol'jin cannot completely remember the events that led him to appoint Sylvanas Warchief, as he feels a dark presence. Based on the Q&A reply, it's very likely that the Jailer was the one whispering to Vol'jin.
Vol'jin: A darkness in me mind be keeping me from remembering what happened da day I named Sylvanas warchief.
Vol'jin: I remember dyin'. I remember glimpsin' da Other Side.
Vol'jin: I was expectin' ta see ol' Bwonsamdi, or Shadra, or Hir'reek... any of da loa.
Vol'jin: Dere was a presence. Somethin' movin' in da shadows. Somethin' powerful.
Vol'jin: I remember it takin' me somewhere, but da memory of where be hidden from me. Ta keep me from sharin' da truth...
Vol'jin: Da truth dat it might not be da loa who wanted Sylvanas to be warchief, but somethin' far more powerful.
Later in Vol'jin's investigations, Eyir later confirms that Vol'jin's spirit has become something more than even she could create in
Vol'jin: Queen of da Val'kyr. My spirit was sent to da Other Side, den returned. Was dis your doing?
Eyir: Shadow hunter, you are no longer a mere spirit. What you have become is something beyond my power to forge.
Vol'jin: Who be havin' such power? Could it be da same one who bid me ta name Sylvanas warchief?
Eyir: You have been touched by the hand of valor. Such a noble force does not scheme for mortal thrones.
Vol'jin: So whoever whispered to me's not da same as who sent me back?
While we know less about the Arbiter than the Jailer, it's plausible that the Arbiter intervened and sent Vol'jin's soul back. The Arbiter empowering Vol'jin would also nicely parallel Elune's empowerment of Tyrande as the Night Warrior, as both the Arbiter and Elune have been weakened recently by Sylvanas and the Jailer.
Souls who arrive here are brought before the Arbiter, a mysterious and ancient being whose existence predates all memory—even older than the Titans, according to some accounts. Those brought before her have all of their deeds, memories, and experiences—the very contents of their souls—laid bare, and are judged in a mere instant.
There's also the mystery of Sylvanas' pact with Helya, teased in
. Knowing now that Sylvanas was in a pact with the Jailer for many years, Sylvanas was likely meeting with Helya not to broker a new deal, but to instead inform her of her success and ascension to Warchief. Helya has also been regaining power throughout
Battle for Azeroth
, now likely a direct result of Sylvanas' acquiring countless souls for the Jailer, which implies she is in a partnership with the Jailer as well. And since Helya was the very first val'kyr, she may have been involved in the Jailer's decision to grant Sylvanas the nine Val'kyr from the Lich King.
One more plot thread, less detailed than the rest, is the matter of Argus, the final boss of Legion. Normally, a final boss is extremely well-known, such as the Lich King or Deathwing. However, Argus is a character we did not encounter before Patch 7.3 in WoW, and while the Sargeras cinematic was epic, fighting an unknown character seemed puzzling at the time. However, Argus' role may have a larger impact in future expansions.
With the implication that Vol'jin at the start of Legion was able to journey to the Shadowlands and be judged by the Arbiter, one would assume that the flow of souls and anima in the Shadowlands worked properly at the time. However, based on a quote from Blizzard's Shadowlands blog, all the souls from the Burning of Teldrassil were funneled into the Maw, an event that took place right before the next expansion, Battle for Azeroth.
The machine of death is broken, and players entering the Shadowlands will find the realm of the dead in disarray. In the natural order of things, souls are sorted and sent on to an afterlife realm appropriate to the lives they lived, but now, but over the past few years, all souls who have perished—including the innocents slain at Teldrassil—are being funneled directly into the Maw. The Shadowlands are starving for anima even as the Maw continues to grow from the glut of fresh souls.
Therefore, sometime during Legion, the machine of death broke. Argus is a likely candidate with associated spells like
Death Titan Floating in Space Visual
Death Titan Test
as well as his ability
Grasp of the Unmaker
originally called Grasp of the Death Titan. Several of Argus' quotes during the encounter reference death, including a line echoing Sylvanas plans to end hope.
Death! Death and pain!
The master demands your doom!
Argus the Unmaker yells: No hope. Just pain. Only pain!
With Argus the Death Titan defeated and his remaining energy used to imprison Sargeras, the balance could be disrupted enough for the Jailer to seize control over the Shadowlands. Sylvanas, playing the long game, would have wanted our campaign against the Burning Legion to be effective if she knew that a victory in Antorus would result in greater control over the Shadowlands for the Jailer.
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This Article is Part of our BlizzCon 2019 Coverage
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