Know Your Lore: Sylvanas Windrunner, part 1

Anne Stickney
A. Stickney|12.18.10

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Know Your Lore: Sylvanas Windrunner, part 1

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.

It can be reasonably argued that of all the faction leaders currently featured in Cataclysm, none are quite as questionable in both motive and actions as Sylvanas Windrunner. The history of Sylvanas and her role in Wrath of the Lich King has already been discussed in the Forsaken politics article from earlier this year; at the point it was written, we had no real idea what exactly she was going to be doing in Cataclysm. Now we have answers, and those answers do nothing but raise even more incredibly disturbing questions.

Where do the Banshee Queen's loyalties lie? To the Horde, to her people, or to some other power entirely? Sylvanas' past was fraught with grief and horror; her future seems to be teetering on the brink of something even worse. With the introduction of the worgen, Sylvanas has something to focus on -- but what exactly are her motives, and who is it that she's ultimately fighting for?

Please note: The following post contains spoilers for the Forsaken storylines featured in Cataclysm content. If you have not played through Silverpine, Hillsbrad Foothills or the Western Plaguelands, turn away! And go play through those zones, because they are amazing.

In the Forsaken politics article, we left off with several different possibilities regarding Sylvanas' future motives for the Forsaken. The Banshee Queen, having dedicated her unlife to hunting down and destroying the man who made her what she is today, was left at an impasse: The Lich King was dead, and her people were well and truly free. Now what?
So, it is done. I had not dared to trust my senses. Too many times has the Lich King made me to be a fool. Finally, he has been made to pay for the atrocities he imposed upon my people. May Azeroth never fail to remember the horrible price we paid for our weakness, for our pride. But what now, Hero? What of those freed from his grasp but still shackled to their mortal coils? Leave me. I have much to ponder.
Much to ponder? Definitely. Sylvanas had spent her unlife so focused on destroying the Lich King that the thought of what happened after he was destroyed never crossed her mind. She was so single-minded in her pursuit that the death of the Lich King left her with nothing, really. Yet she had a population of intelligent undead looking to her for guidance. Their queen had led them to victory, at last, and the being responsible for their suffering was finally destroyed.

But Sylvanas and the Forsaken had a lot going against them; the coup of the Royal Apothecary Society was unsuccessful, and the disastrous results of the Wrathgate left the rest of the Horde incredibly wary of their supposed allies. Kor'kron guards had replaced Sylvanas' abominations, and her people were under close watch. On the one hand, they were free from the Lich King; on the other, they were now caged by the eyes of the Horde.

Let's look at the possible theories from that Forsaken politics article, now that we know what's going on with the Forsaken, and address them individually:
Sylvanas' redemption Sylvanas, over time, has begun to grow a little more heart. The addition and acceptance of the Forsaken to the Horde has softened her perspective on the living. The help from the Horde during the Undercity's capture and more notably in achieving the vengeance against Arthas that drove her all these years may have also had a hand in convincing her that an alliance with the living is not only possible but preferable to simply killing them all. The death of Arthas quieted the vengeance that burned in her heart, and now it is possible for her to approach the days ahead with hope for her people's ultimate acceptance by society.

Sylvanas' grief
Sylvanas traveled to Quel'Thalas for no particular reason and stumbled upon not only the traitor responsible for Arthas' advance into Silvermoon, but the person responsible for her inevitable death at Arthas' hands. If Dar'Khan had not interfered, perhaps she could have stayed the assault on Quel'Thalas and saved her people from their abandonment. With the revelation that the Sunwell was not lost entirely, Sylvanas found herself strangely energized and overcome with the urge to reconnect with her living roots. After Anveena had safely been hidden away again, Sylvanas approached her former people to try and atone for her failure as a ranger-general and as a guardian of Silvermoon. The tentative alliance has convinced her that perhaps while it isn't possible to go back to her living life entirely, it is still possible for her to be accepted -- and in turn, perhaps it is possible for the Forsaken themselves to be accepted by the living. The death of Arthas was not only a gift to the Forsaken but to her former people, and now she can concentrate on leading her people to acceptance and ultimately, forgiveness.
These two are definitely out. Sylvanas is just as ruthless as before, if not more so; she isn't looking for acceptance for her people, and the help from the Horde didn't accomplish anything in terms of warming up the cold-hearted banshee queen. There was no trust involved after the Wrathgate -- the Horde had made up its mind that the Forsaken needed to be under constant supervision. While the replacement guards may have been put into play to "help" prevent any future coups, what they essentially did was show the Forsaken that despite whatever claims of alliance the Horde may have had, the Forsaken people were not to be trusted under any circumstances.

The Forsaken of Cataclysm aren't seeking forgiveness or acceptance; what they are seeking is total domination and the advancement of the Forsaken as a force to be reckoned with. In Silverpine, it is revealed that Sylvanas is fighting for control of Gilneas -- supposedly for the Horde, but a few choice words here and there lead the player to believe that perhaps she's not really in it for the Horde at all. Sylvanas' major concern now is the Alliance that is trying to take back Lordaeron.

During the Alliance half of the Battle for the Undercity sequence, Varian Wrynn refers to the Undercity as "our kingdom." This isn't exactly an untrue statement -- Lordaeron was an Alliance kingdom before the rise of the Lich King. But this is where Sylvanas' main problem rests -- to the Alliance, Lordaeron is theirs and should remain theirs. To the Forsaken, Lordaeron is their home -- and it's absolutely true. The Forsaken are the remnants of the people of Lordaeron, raised from death into undead. It is their home and always has been.

Sylvanas isn't looking for acceptance or forgiveness; she's trying to establish what is only right. Lordaeron belongs to the Forsaken in death, because Lordaeron belonged to those very same people in life. While her methods border on madness to those viewing the situation from the stance of the living, the end result makes sense; Lordaeron should rightfully stay with those that owned it to begin with, even if those people are now dead.

Sylvanas' plight Sylvanas has no idea what's going on. She had a very solid reason for leading the Forsaken -- revenge against the man that tortured both her and the others she leads, the creature that cursed them to an un-life of grief and regret. But her people, who were at first so loyal to her cause, have turned against her, and with the one reason for her people's survival now taken care of, Sylvanas is left to deal with the aftermath of that betrayal. Without vengeance, what does Sylvanas have to drive her? Without the support of her people, how will she lead them to anything greater? And were the Forsaken working against her completely destroyed, or are there others that seek to undermine her rule? What are Sylvanas and the Forsaken as a whole supposed to do now?
This was perhaps applicable for a short time after the Lich King's death -- the dialogue with players turning in the Shadowmourne quest item leaves her asking "What now?" in such a way that it suggests, again, that she'd given little thought to the possibility of actions after the Lich King's defeat. However, while the Battle for the Undercity was presented as a coup, and while Sylvanas denied all association with Putress and Varimathras, in Cataclysm, the Forsaken are still using the forsaken blight -- the plague that killed Bolvar and Saurfang, the plague that they'd sworn never to use again. Which leads us to the last theory presented in the article regarding Forsaken politics.

Sylvanas' vengeance Sylvanas, possessing an incredibly shrewd and tactical mind, allied with the blood elves in the hopes of increasing the Forsaken's numbers as the blood elves slowly died out from magic withdrawal. However, the Horde was still breathing down her neck, and in addition, Varimathras was proving a more irritating presence by the day. To this end, she turned a blind eye to his machinations, fully aware that he was staging a coup -- and when he "took over" the Undercity, she quietly allowed it to happen. After all, not only would she be getting rid of a thorn in her side, but also she'd look very much the helpless victim to her Horde "allies," and the "betrayal" would absolve her of any involvement with the Forsaken Blight at the same time. With the death of Arthas, she and her people can now turn their attentions on bolstering their numbers, one corpse at a time -- as soon as they get rid of the pesky Kor'kron littering their halls.
This theory, oddly enough, appears to be closer to the truth than originally expected. While the amount of Sylvanas' involvement with Putress, Varimathras and the Forsaken Blight hasn't really been defined, her continued use of the Forsaken blight is almost a silent admission that she had some sort of involvement in its production. Either that, or the end result of the product's use didn't really matter to her one way or another. What we can gather from this is that Sylvanas' issue wasn't with the blight or its affects at the Wrathgate -- the only thing that irritated her was the attempted coup.

The banshee queen now possesses an almost single-minded obsession with expanding Forsaken territory. Lordaeron is in the process of being turned; even the Scarlet Crusade is now undead. In addition, Sylvanas and her people have completely wiped out the town of Southshore with the Forsaken blight and continue to push westward into the Plaguelands, seeking to take over Andorhal in the name of the Forsaken. While the Horde seeks control of Gilneas as a major Horde base in the Eastern Kingdoms, Sylvanas seems more intent on grabbing the land specifically for the Forsaken.

The other point to the original theory is that Sylvanas knew about the coup ahead of time and actually fostered it in an attempt to get rid of Varimathras and Putress while keeping her hands clean of any involvement. At first, this seemed so far-fetched -- even for Sylvanas -- as to be absurd, but the events that play out in Silverpine tell a story that seems to lend itself to that theory. Not only because of her actions, but because of her odd new allies -- allies that Varimathras would have strongly objected to ...

Come back tomorrow for more on the banshee queen and the new objects of her affection, the Val'kyr.

While you don't need to have played the previous Warcraft games to enjoy World of Warcraft, a little history goes a long way toward making the game a lot more fun. Dig into even more of the lore and history behind the World of Warcraft in WoW Insider's Guide to Warcraft Lore.
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