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The Wrathgate has become a controversial World of Warcraft topic — here’s why

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Who was behind the Wrathgate?

World of Warcraft - Arthas, the Lich King, at the Wrathgate event in Wrath of the Lich King Blizzard Entertainment

World of Warcraft fans have a lot to talk about with Battle for Azeroth. There have been some pretty serious lore revelations lately, especially when it comes to the questions of Sylvanas Windrunner and the nature of undeath. One of the biggest questions arising among World of Warcraft’s historians and lore-watchers comes from something that isn’t in the game at all, but from an interview with Eurogamer, where World of Warcraft creative director Alex Afrasiabi brought something up that is either a retcon or a serious revelation.

In the interview during BlizzCon 2018, he noted: “I’ve heard these discussions on the internet about ‘she’s going off the rails,’ but is she? I’ve been writing Sylvanas personally since 2006, and this is pretty much — the Wrathgate and the Blight and the Forsaken — in character. Those were all under Sylvanas’ orders. What we’re seeing now is an escalation of the plans Sylvanas has, clearly, and we’re in the middle of that.”

If you’re a long-time World of Warcraft fan, especially during the era of Wrath of the Lich King, something there should have raised your eyebrows. The Wrathgate is one of the most influential and popular events in World of Warcraft’s long and storied history ... and it might have just changed entirely.

What’s the Wrathgate?

The Wrathgate was a battle wherein the Horde and Alliance put aside their differences to march on the Lich King in Dragonblight. The forces, led by Dranosh Saurfang and Bolvar Fordragon, were in the middle of getting stomped by the Lich King when something dramatic happened. Grand Apothecary Putress, part of the Forsaken, interrupted the battle with what is one of the best speeches in World of Warcraft for sheer dramatic effect. The Forsaken had been killed by the Lich King, raised into his service, and eventually freed ... but then were rejected by the living and only barely scraped their way into the Horde and out of “kill on sight” territory for every faction.

Putress interrupts the battle with the question “Did you think we had forgotten? Did we think we had forgiven? Behold now, the terrible vengeance of the Forsaken!” Putress, clearly a charming man, follows this up with “Death to the Scourge ... and death to the living!”

Everyone on the battlefield dies a hideous death, Fordragon and Saurfang are brought back to Icecrown Citadel to be used as tools by the Lich King, and the Forsaken’s leader, Sylvanas, immediately points the finger at Putress as a traitor. Players invade the Undercity, kill Putress, end his coup, and Sylvanas insists the whole thing was done by the rogue element that we just ended.

The Wrathgate has been removed from the game and has been inaccessible for years, but it still remains one of the high points of World of Warcraft’s history. A recent fan remaster by YouTuber IKedit racked up over 600,000 views in ten days. The event is still very relevant to today’s lore, with a badly charred, nearly dead Bolvar Fordragon serving as the Lich King, and hovering ominously behind Death Knights while clearly up to something sinister.

Was Sylvanas behind it?

Polygon recently had the opportunity to sit down with Steve Danuser, senior narrative designer on World of Warcraft, and Steve Burke, senior designer and assistant quest lead. While we covered a variety of topics, one of the first things I asked was about Sylvanas and the Wrathgate — after all, it wouldn’t be the first time a designer had misspoke or used shorthand before. I asked up front: Was Sylvanas behind the Wrathgate?

“Sylvanas engineered the Blight in the first place, but she wasn’t the one who deployed it,” said Danuser. This is backed up by what we know in the game. Sylvanas spent most of her time in vanilla World of Warcraft trying to engineer a biochemical weapon by using Forsaken alchemists, and she gave the OK to experiment on living test subjects. Putress is the face of the Wrathgate attack, and most players have assumed the entire attempt was his initiative.

“There are interesting story threads behind the question of who was at fault,” Danuser says, suggesting that the ultimate order might not have come from Putress at all. He notes that Varimathras, a long-time advisor of Sylvanas who betrayed her and was slain during Wrath of the Lich King, only to return during Legion, had some “interesting” things to say about Sylvanas.

World of Warcraft- the raid boss Varimathras in the Throne of Antorus
He’s a little beat up after Sylvanas killed him, so he’s kind of biased.
Blizzard Entertainment

To Alliance players, Varimathras says:

So, your Alliance still endures. Longer than I expected, though she has already planted the seeds of its downfall. She is patient, that one.

When your thrones run red with betrayal... when your holy places burn and the shattered mask hangs above your hearth... only then you will know. And it will be too late.

It matters not. You are blind to the true darkness closing in around you.

Horde players get a different, equally ominous message:

So, she found me at last. Sent her underlings to finish the job.

Tell me, when she seized your throne of hides and bones, was your allegiance forced? No ... I’d wager you surrendered it willingly... or were convinced you did.

It matters not. You are blind to the darkness in your midst.

So, did Sylvanas give the order and engineer the Wrathgate?

“We’re not saying one way or another,” Danuser said. “We want you to see how the story plays out in the chapters to come. Sylvanas has certainly had an interesting history, and looking back at the choices she made is something we want the players to look back at and revisit.”

Either way, it seems as though Afrasiabi’s statement was very deliberate.

The current patch in Battle for Azeroth features Sylvanas up to some very shady plans in the war against the Alliance, which she kickstarted by burning the Night Elven capital of Teldrassil. The upcoming raid, Battle of Dazar’Alor, will continue the battle between both player factions.