A young woman arrived in another flash of light. As she went to stand by Antonidas, the high elf's gaze followed her with troubled, brooding intensity. But Jaina Proudmoore took no notice; she was utterly focused on her duties. The handsome prince didn't stand a chance.
Her vivid blue eyes spared Kel'Thuzad a curious glance. She took the box from Antonidas, who explained, "My apprentice will see to it that the chest and its contents are incinerated."
The woman inclined her head and teleported from the room. Across the room, the high elf frowned at the spot she had vacated. Under other circumstances, Kel'Thuzad might have found the silent drama amusing.
-- excerpt from Road to Damnation
Kael'thas always kind of interested me. Here's a guy who was relatively young for a Blood (then High) Elf during the events of Warcraft III, studying magic in Dalaran, getting a hopeless crush on Jaina, and who was by all accounts a nice guy. Think of him as a senior at an out of state college who then gets word of massive trouble at home and bolts off to help. Arthas steals his girl, kills his dad, wrecks his homeland, singlehandedly plunges the Blood Elves into the desperate state of magic addiction they're suffering from as BC begins, and then takes off looking for more power. Kael gets home, rallies the few surviving elves, and then marches off to help the Alliance (who, lest we forget, birthed the same guy who'd destroyed Quel'thalas in the first place). He does this despite the fact that most of the elves are sick and weak, himself included, and he doesn't yet know why.
If you've done the "Curse of the Blood Elves" campaign from the game, you know that Kael's contingent gets screwed by both the night elves (Kael arrives late to the Alliance camp because he gets caught in the spitting match between Maiev, Tyrande, Malfurion, and Illidan) and the humans (Garithos has the colossal gall to to deny the elves troops needed to defend the Alliance position and then imprisons them for accepting help from Vashj and the naga when it was either that or be annihilated). "This victory would not have been possible without (their) aid," Kael correctly notes. "Though I fear I may have doomed myself by accepting it."
You can read transcripts of the campaigns here (don't forget to look at the NE campaign for Kael's portion and an awe-inspiring look at the hair-pulling matches that apparently define NE political life), and they're a pretty damning indictment of the circumstances under which the Blood Elves left the Alliance and picked up at the start of BC. It's tough to accept Kael as a potential villain down the line: he's one of the game's most open and tolerant characters, manages to get very difficult jobs done despite a total lack of support from his military superiors, and asks to be punished in the place of his soldiers when Garithos goes off the deep end. That he's able to do this at all shortly after the death of his father and most of his people, and suffering terribly from what was then an unknown sickness, is a testament to the strength of his character in Frozen Throne:
Garithos: Forget about them! So, Kael, you've shown your true colors at last. I knew you were in league with those serpents. Now I have all the proof I need to execute every traitorous one of you!
Prince Kael'thas: Please, milord, spare my men! It was my decision to --
Garithos: Spare your breath. I never trusted you vainglorious elves. It was a mistake to accept you into the Alliance in the first place. Now, at long last, you'll be dealt with approapriately. Take them away!
Characters like Vashj -- I can understand making her a raid boss. She was always a pretty vicious piece of work, and if you can survive Phase 2 Vashj without wanting a nuclear strike called on Serpentshrine Cavern, you're a better person than I am.
But Kael? Seriously? Clearly a smart, thoughtful person who's left with no illusions over the horrible position the Blood Elves are in after Arthas' joyride through Quel'thalas. You don't finish Warcraft III thinking, "Yeah, this guy's a potential mass-murderer." I was disturbed enough running some of the early Draenei quests and seeing hints of him as a megalomaniac. The quest lines in Netherstorm just made it worse. Kael's descent into evil only makes sense if you accept BC's somewhat baffling premise that his madness in Outland was a fait accompli; it's the Pre-Evil For Your Convenience approach to storytelling. I think it would bug me less if it weren't for the sheer potential of examining how he fell -- or, alternately, at least not totally slaughtering his characterization from WCIII.
With patch 2.4 approaching, we're seeing Kael's final end in a 5-man dungeon. This time that hold-out hope of "He's not really dead" from the 25-man Tempest Keep -- The Eye raid no longer applies, unless they manage to retcon him into WotLK somehow (I have to say that the possibility of Arthas finding redemption in the next expansion is kind of irritating when his Horde counterpart is given no such care; but, as we've noted, this isn't necessarily a new trend). There's another oddity here -- namely, that newer players to the game or alts will be killing the 5-man, "broken" version of Kael before wounding the 25-man, "unbroken" version -- but eh, that's the normal rough-and-tumble of MMORPG life.
So I don't get it. Why, out of all the characters in the Warcraft universe, was this guy picked to fall into irredeemable evil?
Many thanks to Pulyx (Paulo Henrique) for the use of his image above. The full piece can be seen here at his DeviantArt gallery.