World of Warcraft fans spent most of Battle for Azeroth asking one big question: What, exactly, was the nefarious Warchief Sylvanas Windrunner planning? It was clear she was playing some kind of five dimensional chess that involved genocides, betrayals, and surprising secret magical powers. The newest expansion, Shadowlands, is also focused around Sylvanas’ plots. But thanks to a new cutscene, we know what she’s really doing, and it’s probably really bad news for everyone.
This article contains spoilers for Shadowlands’ early end-game content, specifically dungeons and Torghast.
Why is Sylvanas so mad about the afterlife?
Sylvanas is one of the last remaining characters who comes from the real-time strategy games; she was introduced in Warcraft 3, where she was promptly murdered by Arthas on his journey to become the Lich King. He resurrected her, and when she broke free from his mind control, she took a leadership role over the Forsaken with the intent of getting revenge against Arthas.
After Arthas died at players’ hands in Wrath of the Lich King, Sylvanas decided that was a job well done, and there wasn’t much point in sticking around as an undead banshee. In the short story Edge of Night, published during early Cataclysm in 2010, she threw herself off the top of Icecrown Citadel, and died. In an upsetting twist, she ended up going to the worst possible hell for reasons that are currently unknown.
Sylvanas took a dark deal with the Val’kyr, winged servants of death, to come back to life and escape her fate. Since then, she’s made it her goal to never, ever go back. Most players interpreted this as she didn’t want to die. It turns out she’s a little more ambitious than that.
Attack and dethrone God
As of Shadowlands, we now know that Sylvanas has been in league with the Jailer, a totally new World of Warcraft villain. The Jailer was one of the bosses of the Shadowlands, but his colleagues decided that he sucked, and banished him. He’s the cause of all the problems in the Shadowlands, and his machinations are why players have hours of quest content to complete. He and Sylvanas have created a league of evil death-related masterminds, including Legion’s Helya.
The bad guys have yoinked some of Azeroth’s biggest heroes, including the setting’s golden boy, King Anduin. Sylvanas and Anduin finally have a chat together, and Sylvanas explains that death in World of Warcraft is rude and unfair.
We find out through questing that when someone dies, they go to the Arbiter, who is basically the Sorting Hat from Hogwarts in the form of a big angel lady. She organizes souls to their final destination without their input. So, you can die and then suddenly wake up and find yourself in a vampire torture rehabilitation program, or a giant metalhead mosh pit of eternal war. It’s a second, possibly eternal life, and most of the characters we meet seem pretty OK with the Arbiter and her judgement. Sylvanas, on the other hand, thinks it’s ridiculous.
She does have a point here! Spouses are separated, as well as parents and children. The Kyrian, one of the Shadowlands’ four biggest factions, require new souls to wipe their memories of life.
Anduin gets one of the best moments of the expansion so far, as he points out that this isn’t exactly a good guy moment for Sylvanas. For one, her attire is absolutely covered with skulls. Second, she’s keeping Anduin in a terrifying, stark prison carved with death-related runes. Sylvanas basically shrugs and says “the ends justify the means!” Which, Sylvanas, I’m having a hard time getting on board with this argument considering your means are mind control, genocides, and dropping a skeleton-raising blight on people.
Also, we’re still not entirely sure what her ends are. Sylvanas wants to set up a new system of death, presumably one with more agency that will allow her to smooch her undeath goth boyfriend for all eternity. But we’re not sure what that means, or how she’ll do it.
So far, I’m on board with finding out what other story tricks Shadowlands has up its sleeve. There’s a lot of potential in the expansion so far, and the Jailer seems like a good villain to add to the game’s rogue’s gallery. It’s still early days yet, so there’s lots of time for Sylvanas’ plan to go horribly awry thanks to the player’s interference.