A Death Knight's Raison D'Etre
So Death Knights as a whole have a little problem: According to their own leader, they're abominations of life that should not exist. Darion Mograine sums up their raison d'etre very succinctly in this line from the aftermath of the Battle at Light's Hope: "Although our kind has no place in your world, we will fight to bring an end to the Lich King. This I vow."
This is what sets the stage for the PC Death Knights as they join their respective factions and start in on the war in Northrend. The Ebon Blade is probably the most focused organization in Northrend as far as beating the Lich King goes. It is Darion Mograine and the Ebon Blade who get the Crusade a foothold in Icecrown by dismantling Scourgeholme. It is the Ebon Blade who takes the North and West parts of the zone, holding back the Scarlet Crusade and taking over a major Scourge base and freeing some of its major lieutenants to join their cause. It is the Ebon Blade who enables the Crusade's victory at the Fleshwerks by resurrecting the Crusade Commander there.
During this time, they've also managed to form ties with the Alliance and the Horde, with Thassarian and Koltira on their respective factions' airships directing some pretty devastating attacks on the Scourge infrastructure and preparing the way for the greater offensive to come.
So in short, they've been key in defeating the Scourge, and its unlikely the Argent Crusade would have had as much success against Arthas without them. But once Arthas is dead, what will they do? Their leadership believes that they "do not belong in this world." All told Mograine seems to believe their purpose is to take revenge on Arthas and destroy his machinations... and then what?
The Future of the Death Knight
So with this in mind, where do we go after Arthas is dead and our reason for vengeance is gone? Illidan had words for Maiev on a similar occasion: "You have won... Maiev... But the huntress... is nothing... without the hunt... You... are nothing... without... me..."
Of course we know we aren't doomed to simply wander off to die, bereft of purpose. As much as some of our opponents in PvP or our rival tanks would probably like it, Blizzard's not going to wipe out a whole class. But with the death of Arthas marking the close of a very important chapter in Death Knight lore, we do need a new purpose.
Of course, Blizzard could more or less ignore the Death Knight storyline altogether. They've done it before. For example, Blood Elves have become somewhat neglected since Patch 2.4's storyline ended. There's no sign of major societal reforms to the wake of the re-ignition of the Sunwell, use of holy energy or not. Also, despite the fact that the Blood Elves have very good reason to hate the Scourge, they're not really around on the front lines of the battle in Northrend. Sure, there's the Sunreavers, but they appear to be more interested in squabbling with the Silver Covenant than fighting the Scourge. Lady Liadrin, despite a memorable (and endlessly repeated) redemption scene in Shattrath where she seems to rededicate herself and her order to fighting for good, is nowhere to be seen, and her Blood Knights are still being stuck up and squabbling with the Farstriders.
But anyway, my point is, completely ignoring or suspending a class or race's lore storyline is technically something Blizzard has done before. Still, they've been making an admirable effort lately to tie off loose lore ends and provide new and interesting lore hooks every patch, and while I don't always agree with the way they take the story, they do appear to legitimately be trying, so I trust them not to drop the ball.
Another possibility could come from the merging of the Argent Crusade and the Ebon Blade. The argument goes that both factions have been joined at the hip in Icecrown. If in the assault on Icecrown, one of both sides loses a great number of people, or even loses Tirion or Darion, merging would be a good way to bolster their ranks and reinforce each other so that they could carry on after the battle at the citadel.
But here's my problem with this: The Ebon Blade and the Argent Crusade are not very ideologically compatible. Sure, they're together in a lot of points in Icecrown, but the whole time, they're at loggerheads. Darion, in guise as the Ebon Watcher, is exasperated at Tiron's need for "honor," the Death Knights fighting the Scarlet Crusade believe the Argent Crusade is foolish to have forgotten them, and Arly is constantly looking down on the Crusade as amateurs in their attack on the Fleshwerks. Even at the Argent Tournament, the Death Knight contingent mocks the Crusaders for spending more time breaking up drunken brawls between spectators rather than fighting the Scourge.
In short, they just aren't compatible in the long run. If nothing else, they're polar opposites on the whole "do the ends justify the means" question.
The New Beginning
So here's my prediction: I don't think Darion is long for this world. In the end, Darion's sort of focused one-mindedly on his father's, his father's death, and the death of Arthas. In addition, he's almost completely a product of the Ashbringer comic. I'm definitely not against extra-game lore sources, but cutting a character from the outside game lore and placing him front and center in the in-game lore doesn't always work out well, because people only get a partial idea of who he is and where he comes from.
So, if Arthas kills Darion in Icecrown, his story arc is done. He's redeemed himself, and he gets to join his father in Heaven, Vahalla, or wherever all good champions of the Light go when they die. It'd be a good way to bring his in-game story full circle from his encounter with his father's ghost at Light's Hope Chapel, where he proclaims his wish to fight beside his father and die facing down the undead legions.
Once he's dead, we may have two new ready made leaders for the Knights of the Ebon Blade: Saurfang the Younger and Bolvar Fordragon. Both of them are well beloved members of their respective factions with a good amount of in-game back story built up about them, making them perfect candidates for being freed from the Lich King (especially given the Yogg-Saron Nightmare scene involving them).
Not only that, but it also feeds into Blizzard's lore MO for Cataclysm: Get the Horde and the Alliance polarized. They've already bought up the possibility of rifts between Tauren and Night Elf Druids (though that admittedly seems to be more of a prelude to Tauren Priests and Paladins, it's still an example of the Tauren rejecting Night Elf teachings), so the idea of making dual leaders of the Horde and Alliance Death Knights makes sense in the same vein.
Of course, they'll probably still share Acherus, but there will be a much clearer line of division between the two factions, allowing for greater investment in the storyline for the individual and illustrating the extent of the Horde and Alliance's differences.
Goblins and Worgen
I've heard a few people complaining that Goblin and Worgen Death Knights are a lorelol move, but honestly, I can live with them. Considering that Goblin Mercenaries have been on or near the front lines of many a battle in Northrend and elsewhere, and Arthas has his own personal Worgen cult in Grizzly Hills to handpick from, it's not too hard to think he might have raised a few Goblin and Worgen Death Knights. Add a quick "time skip" quest that makes it clear the Goblin and Worgen Death Knights mostly hung out at Acherus or did faction neutral stuff in Northrend until such time as their respective people joined the Alliance or Horde, and you have a perfect backstory that really doesn't conflict with existing story.
And sometimes, you know, you just gotta let "lore" take a backseat to the fact that Worgen Death Knights are going to look badass.
Welcome to Lichborne, the new class column on the new WoW class, the Death Knight, where we discuss Patch 3.1 cookie cutter builds, basic defense gear and Heroic defense gear for the Death Knight tank, 5-man Crusader's Coliseum gear previews for tanks and DPS, and basic Death Knight statistics and mechanics. You might also want to check all the other articles in our Death Knight category.