We discussed the basics of the Old God/Titan conflict in previous posts, but to give a general overview, it can help to visualize them as two opposing ideologies. The Old Gods like everything to be a roiling, disorganized mess. They gleefully enslave and direct elementals into pitched combat for no other reason than their own amusement. They keep worlds they infest at a constant tipping point, neither letting them be destroyed utterly nor ever allowing any kind of permanent order to be established. The Titans, on the other hand, absolutely love order. They can't get enough of it. They go around the cosmos constantly imposing it on every planet they can get their hands on.
You can see why these two groups didn't get along. In the smackdown between the cosmic Felix Ungers and the cthonic Oscar Madisons, it turned out that the Titans are not being played by Tony Randall. Despite the enormous, sanity-shattering power of the Old Gods, the Titans just wanted it more (and have a fair amount of enormous power themselves), and in the end, they and their servitors prevailed over the Old Gods and their armies of enslaved elementals, elemental lords and sinister servants like Soggoth. Save for one Old God who managed to fight a Titan to a standstill (at least according to his autobiography, the Prophecies of C'Thun), the other Old Gods were bound up in the world they'd infested and left to rot by their Titan enemies, due to a general belief that it would take destroying the entire planet to get rid of them.
Not that the Titans were entirely unwilling to go that far, but they figured they'd give containment a shot first.
In the eons before the Sundering, Azeroth was blessed with one continent, Kalimdor. At the center of that great continent stood the Well of Eternity, created by the Titans for some great unspecified purpose and imbued with the ability to draw mystical power directly from the depths of the Great Dark Beyond. (The Great Dark Beyond is basically the black void of space surrounding Azeroth and other worlds, as opposed to the Twisting Nether, a place of demons and other fel intelligences where the ruined remains of Outland currently reside.) On this ancient continent, the Titans left behind many structures, facilities built to shepherd Azeroth and its development. Some were also built as prisons. One such facility was the enormous city-complex known today as Ulduar. And within Ulduar, chained at its very heart with chains made of pure cosmic matter, lay the dread Yogg-Saron.
The dread Yogg-Saron
Unlike C'Thun, Yogg-Saron appears to have named itself. If not, no records remain to tell us who named it. Also unlike its peer, Yogg-Saron seems to have given itself a portfolio of sorts, declaring itself to be the Old God of Death. Trapped without recourse to the Well of Eternity, Yogg-Saron seemed to have slept in confinement for countless eons.
"Seemed" is the operative word there, because the beast with a thousand maws was anything but quiescent during its durance vile in Ulduar. We don't as yet know how much of what Yogg-Saron shows those who oppose it is truly accurate and how much the beast itself has to do with those visions, but we do know that it is possible and even likely that Yogg-Saron was one of the Old Gods who helped to corrupt Deathwing. (Indeed, given his title of The Lucid Dream, Yogg would seem a very likely candidate.) Yogg-Saron's display of the events of the formation of the Dragon Soul (later known as the Demon Soul) certainly indicates that he either has or claims a level of involvement with the madness that overcame Neltharion.
It's also telling, however, that Yogg-Saron displays the murder of King Llane Wrynn at the hands of Garon Halforcen. We know that Garona was acting on the orders of the Shadow Council, who had used their warlock magics to condition her over the years. We know that Gul'dan, leader of the Shadow Council, had used warlock magic to age and dominate Garona's mind and had entrusted the ogre mage Cho'gall, his own creation, with the task of controlling her. And we know that Cho'gall again attempted to use his power over Garona to help bring C'Thun back to life. So why did Yogg-Saron show us Garona's murder of the human king who had trusted and respected her? Was he claiming to have had control over Cho'gall even then? Is that why we find Twilight's Hammer soldiers and mages in Ulduar serving General Vezax? Just how deep do Yogg-Saron's machinations go?
The third vision we see, that of Arthas Menethil (the Lich King) torturing Bolvar Fordragon (his eventual replacement), is fairly simple: Arthas had made extensive use of Yogg-Saron's own blood for his undead minions. Yogg-Saron's words -- "He will learn that no king rules forever" -- proved prophetic indeed, as Arthas died at the hands of me and 24 of my closest friends. (Well, OK, maybe you killed him. Depends on who raids when.) At any rate, Arthas was slain, Bolvar took up the mantle of the Lich King, and we're left to wonder why Yogg-Saron -- who claimed such extensive influence, helping to cause the creation of the Demon Soul (and inadvertently the Sundering itself), the death of King Llane and destruction of Stormwind, and the ultimate fate of the Lich King -- was so unprepared for his own death.
Then again, when we look at the circumstances surrounding Ulduar, we're forced to wonder if it was unpreparedness.
Over the course of the millennia, Yogg-Saron enslaved the will of Loken, the Prime Designate charged with watching over the Ulduar installation and Azeroth entire. Using Loken as a proxy, Yogg-Saron manipulated the servants of its own Titan enemies, engaging them in a long and ultimately pointless war that ended with many of them being forced into stasis by Loken and thus unable to interfere with the corrupted watcher's plans for Azeroth. Loken went so far as to murder his brother Thorim's wife Sif and pin the blame on the servants of Hodir, another of his sibling watchers. Eventually, Freya, Hodir and Mimiron all found themselves imprisoned and slowly driven mad by the being they themselves had been set to ward over. The last watcher besides brooding Thorim was Tyr, a great champion of order who'd sacrificed his own hand in battle with the forces of the Old Gods. His fate remains unknown. There's speculation that Yogg-Saron used the corrupting force of his saronite blood to alter Tyr into General Vezax, but no evidence either way as yet.
Eventually, as great heroes from the mortal races reached the Storm Peaks in their quest to find a way to halt the Lich King's advances, Yogg-Saron used Loken to manipulate and capture Thorim, the final watcher of Ulduar with a component of the Algalon fail-safe. It's unknown why neither Loken nor Tyr had a piece of the device, perhaps as a check on these two supposedly most orderly of the watchers to keep them from summoning Algalon prematurely. With Thorim in his reach, Yogg either failed to keep a close enough watch on his servitor or deliberately sacrificed Loken to vengeful heroes in order to activate the Algalon protocol.
Because how else could it have happened? It's clear that Yogg-Saron must have known of the protocol after thousands of years of controlling Loken even more thoroughly than Deathwing has even been controlled. (Neltharion, for all his flaws, has never blindly obeyed the Old Gods, working with them only when it suits him.) Why would Yogg-Saron, the Old God of Death, the Lucid Dream itself, allow Loken to die alone in a side wing of the Ulduar complex if it didn't exactly suit his plans? Look at the larger picture.
As with C'Thun, we see an Old God confronted and slain in its own lair by mortal hands, when the Titans themselves supposedly could not do so without destroying Azeroth. Perhaps the issue isn't that the Old Gods can't be slain, but that to slay them utterly requires the complete eradication of Azeroth back down to its primary unmixed materials (as Algalon himself implies when he arrives) -- and therefore, Yogg-Saron can't possibly be dead now.
I don't know about you, but when I killed him, I didn't reduce Azeroth to its primary components just to be sure. However, in manipulating a group of mortals to not only kill Loken but then to storm Ulduar, regain the fragments of the Celestial Planetarium key, and take a key role in preventing Algalon himself from reoriginating Azeroth, Yogg-Saron ensures its own survival and the survival of the Old Gods.
Azeroth belongs to the Old Gods
It's not that Yogg-Saron particularly wants Azeroth to survive, but the Old Gods have shown a remarkable tendency to enjoy their own existences. Allowing Algalon to wipe Azeroth down to the raw cosmic matter that formed it and root out the slumbering and presumably vulnerable Old Gods trapped within wouldn't suit the Old God of Death at all, since it happens to be one of those selfsame trapped beings. But look now: Not only has Yogg-Saron slain, corrupted or weakened his eternal jailors, it has convinced them and Algalon that it has been destroyed and is no longer a threat. Furthermore, even if clear and present evidence of even more widespread systemic Old God corruption of Azeroth should surface, Algalon's not coming back to deal with it.
Azeroth belongs to the Old Gods now. While there have been a handful of mortals who have shown the ability to balk them, these same mortals run the risk of corruption every time they raise a weapon against the Old Gods. Just ask Milhouse Manastorm about the insidious whispers of the madness that crawls behind reality's mask. Can mortal heroes who have accepted the Faustian bargain and worn the very blood of an Old God possibly hope to retain their sanity and battle a hopeless fight against forces that threaten to swallow the world in chaos, and do so without the help of the Titans?
Sure, Yogg-Saron is dead. Of course it is. The alternative ... that events unfolded exactly as it hoped they would ... is too horrible to contemplate.
Next week, the new lore of the Old Gods in Cataclysm