The World of Warcraft is an expansive universe. You're playing the game, you're fighting the bosses, you know the how, but do you know the why? Each week Matthew Rossi and Anne Stickney make sure you Know Your Lore by covering the history of the story behind World of Warcraft.
While the politics of Horde races such as the orcs, blood elves, tauren and trolls span literally thousands of years, and feelings and current beliefs held by both races are deep-seated within that history, not all of the Horde races have such an extensive past. In the case of the Forsaken, the history goes back not thousands of years but approximately six or seven by Blizzard's timeline. A relatively new race, the Forsaken were introduced in World of Warcraft as playable members of the Horde faction, a move which confused some of the player base as the Forsaken were most definitely up to no good. Why would Thrall, who has been presented as a good character, agree to ally with a group that were presented as primarily evil?
This was never directly addressed other than being waved off as an alliance of convenience, but most of the Horde seemed to either distrust or share outright loathing for the Forsaken. While other races started out on good terms with the rest of their Horde brethren, players rolling Forsaken found themselves at neutral standing with all three of the other Horde races available. There are exceptions, however. The Tauren -- particularly Magatha Grimtotem -- seem interested in working with the Forsaken and possibly developing a "cure" for their undead state and aren't quite as unforgiving when it comes to dealing with their undead comrades.
While the relative time of the Forsaken on Azeroth has been short, in the few years of their existence they've managed to accomplish much -- largely due to the efforts of their leader, Lady Sylvanas Windrunner. Sylvanas had quite a history of her own prior to becoming the banshee queen, and it is doubtful that the race would have accomplished anything, much less banded together, without her leadership. I've covered some of the history of the high elves in last week's post, but this week I'm going to look at Sylvanas in a little more detail as the leader and the driving force behind the Forsaken.
The middle sister of the Windrunners, Sylvanas lived with her family at Windrunner Spire in Quel'thalas. Working her way up in the ranger forces, Sylvanas eventually became the ranger-general of Silvermoon, military leader of all high elven forces. During the Second War, she and her forces were a large part of the defense against the Horde attackers that sought to burn down the forests of Quel'Thalas. After the Horde's retreat, Sylvanas and her rangers remained at the forest's edge to guard against any further threats. This was a relatively quiet job until the day that Arthas came to Quel'Thalas. His destination was the Sunwell, which he would use to resurrect the dead necromancer Kel'Thuzad, and nothing would stop him from reaching that destination.
While Sylvanas and her force of rangers worked tirelessly to hold him back and managed to create a substantial thorn in Arthas' side, they were unable to stop the relentless advance of his army. The rangers were slaughtered, and Sylvanas faced off against Arthas himself -- who by this time was incredibly angry, to say the very least, at the amount of resistance Sylvanas and her rangers managed to put up. The two fought, and Sylvanas turned out to be no match for Arthas' strength. She demanded a clean death, as she deserved, but Arthas wasn't about to let her off so easily.
According to the official story given by the high elves of Silvermoon, Ranger-General Sylvanas Windrunner perished after fighting valiantly in battle against the undead Scourge, her body burned to ashes. Or so the high elves thought. Arthas tortured her, killed her and then brought her back, corrupting her soul and severing her spirit from her body to become the first high elven banshee. As a member of the undead, she was fully under Arthas' control and could do nothing but watch as Arthas marched against her home, Silvermoon, and destroyed the Sunwell that was such an integral part of the high elves' existence.
Sylvanas became one of the primary generals of Arthas' army, forced to carry out his wishes against her will. But the thrall that Arthas held her in didn't last. After claiming Lordaeron for his own, largely by slaughtering any living creature still present within it, Arthas found his powers beginning to diminish. This was due to Illidan's tampering with the Frozen Throne -- Ner'zul's powers had begun to weaken, and through him, Arthas' as well. Suddenly, Sylvanas was no longer under Arthas' control. Needless to say, her first action was to arrange an ambush of Arthas in order to kill him. Well ... not kill him exactly, more like "torture him relentlessly and make him writhe in excruciating anguish for eternity." She managed to recover her corpse and repossess the body she wore in life, becoming a corporeal creature rather than just a ghost. Her banshees led Arthas into the ambush, but despite all her planning, Kel'thuzad managed to show up and chase her off. He and Arthas quickly fled to Northrend.
Sylvanas had failed. Not only had she failed to kill Arthas, but she was still a monstrous abomination of a creature, a dead thing that by all rights nobody would wish to look at, to speak to.
Let's step away from the story for a moment here and look at the larger picture. Imagine, if you will, that you are a perfectly normal, happy living human being of flesh and blood, going about your daily business, and all things considered, relatively content with your life. One day, you die. The cause doesn't matter so much in this case -- you simply die. Instead of the white light at the end of the tunnel you were expecting, you are raised from the dead as a garish, walking, living corpse, and through no choice of your own, you are then sent to relentlessly slaughter everyone and everything you have ever loved. You aren't exactly conscious of doing this; you're almost on automatic. An automatic killing machine -- and one day, out of the blue, you remember everything. Who you are, who you were, where you came from, and what you've done. And you are suddenly capable of making decisions for yourself again and accountable for every action you've taken.
Yet you are a corpse, a walking monstrosity that causes those around you to cringe in fear or disgust. You are a reanimated reminder of the army of screaming undead that murdered thousands upon thousands of people -- some of those people being the very ones you used to care about, when you were alive. You cannot return to your life as it was when you were truly alive. You cannot approach those you used to speak to on a daily basis because you horrify and repulse them.
You are, in a word, stuck. Damned to walk the world and never quite die, there are two things at the very forethought of your mind: First, utter despair with the knowledge that this is tremendously, incredibly unfair. You didn't ask for it to happen, you had no control over your situation. Second (and much more important), white-hot rage that fuels the notion that you must above all else hunt down the man that did this to you and make him pay with every ounce of pain, agony and sheer anguish you can forcibly rip from his twisted hide.
Welcome to the mind of Sylvanas Windrunner.
Sylvanas got a small taste of what it was to be a slave, a mindless puppet with no free will of her own, and was entirely unwilling to let it happen again. But she was not alone in wanting to see Arthas removed from power. The dreadlords stationed in Lordaeron, Varimathras, Detheroc and Balnazzar, also wanted Arthas gone. After Archimonde's defeat at Hyjal, Arthas had declared that he, and by extension the Lich King, no longer served the Burning Legion. The dreadlords fled at the news, but they returned after Arthas left for Northrend, approaching Sylvanas and demanding that she work for them as essentially their slave.
Needless to say, this did not go over well. The former ranger-general was not just some random high elf in her living days; she was a born and bred leader with a precise, cunning and lethal grasp of tactics. The one thing she had to cling to was the fact that she was not alone; there were hundreds upon hundreds of undead just like her who were no longer under the Lich King's control, wandering with no purpose to their existence. All they needed was a voice to lead them, and she stepped willingly into the position. The forces of Sylvanas Windrunner not only beat back the dreadlord's army, but also forced the dreadlord Varimathras into an alliance under the control of Sylvanas herself. The Forsaken moved on to claim Lordaeron as their own, as well as wiping out the last contingent of human forces in the kingdom.
There are differing opinions of the Forsaken's crusade, of the relentless slaughter of Scourge, Legion and human forces. Their actions are hardly forgivable in the case of the humans, but one has to keep in mind that the crux of the conflict between the two was a matter of perception; the humans viewed the Forsaken as creatures no better than the mindless Scourge that had wiped out a good chunk of the population. The Forsaken assumed that the hostilities were something that could never be overcome, and so instead of trying to reach some sort of reasonable accord, they simply killed everything that stood in their way.
Sylvanas Windrunner, Queen of the Forsaken, the Dark Lady who led them all to victory, claimed the sewers beneath Arthas' former throne as the capital city of her new race of allies and promptly began work to assure that her kind would have a home free from any threats by the living. To help with this cause, she forged an alliance with the Horde. There are several reasons this alliance was made, though none have been completely, one hundred percent confirmed by Blizzard as being the absolute truth. In part, it was a matter of mutual convenience -- Sylvanas and her people needed the protection the Horde could offer, and the Horde needed some sort of foothold in the Eastern Kingdoms. Secondly, the Horde had some sympathy for the plight of a group of outcasts that were by and large reviled by society, especially for a group that had spent a chunk of time unwillingly enslaved. Third and perhaps the most important as far as the Horde's viewpoint was concerned, the Horde could perhaps help them develop some sort of "cure" for undeath.
Despite the alliance, there was still very little trust between the Forsaken and the rest of the Horde, largely due to the uncertainty of what exactly it was the Forsaken were up to. Sylvanas had one ultimate destiny planned for her people: the eradication of the Lich King. The thought of vengeance burned within her; it drove her with an unmatched ferocity. Other than that, reports surrounding Forsaken activity were often sketchy, vague and questionable, to say the very least. The Forsaken seemed to be constantly developing one sort of plague or another to use against the living, humans were captured as test subjects for various experiments, and the Forsaken as a whole didn't really seem to care one way or another if their comrades lived or died.
This is what made the alliance with the Forsaken and their inclusion in World of Warcraft so hard to swallow for most players -- by all appearances, the Forsaken were well and truly evil, without a redeeming bone in their rotting bodies. To players, it made no sense that the Horde would be so colossally stupid as to miss what was going on right under their noses -- that the Forsaken were apparently planning to eradicate not only the Scourge but life itself.