Players started the newest World of Warcraft expansion by chasing former Warchief and current villain Sylvanas Windrunner through the veil into the Shadowlands. But despite that, we have only seen glimpses of her in cutscenes. The newest cutscene from Torghast’s Twisting Corridors also featuring Sylvanas has been data-mined by Wowhead, and fans are already reacting — and worrying about Sylvanas’ ultimate fate.
Warning: This article contains spoilers for Torghast and upcoming cinematic content.
Sylvanas has spent the last decade committing a ton of war crimes. She might have been behind the Wrathgate in Wrath of the Lich King. In Cataclysm, she definitely plague-bombed the nation of Gilneas against express orders from Horde leadership. In Legion, she tried to kidnap and enslave Eyir, the queen of the Val’kyr. In Battle for Azeroth, she started the expansion with a genocide via arson and then just kept murdering, mind-controlling, and sowing mayhem up until she quit her job and fled into the afterlife.
It’s hard to see how someone could come back from all of that bad behavior to become a hero, but redemption in World of Warcraft has always been a weird thing. Certain characters get to come back and save the day, thus proving that the ends justify their means all along. Kael’thas Suntrider, former prince of the blood elves, is starting his own redemption in the vampiric hell of Revendreth. Alternate Grom Hellscream redeemed himself on Draenor. Maiev Shadowsong killed a lot of people, but she apologized, so everyone’s cool with her.
The template for this comeback tour is from another Blizzard game: Sarah Kerrigan, AKA the Queen of Blades. Her story runs nearly parallel to Sylvanas’: they were both taken and turned into the agent of an alien invading force. They both broke free of mind control and used their newfound powers to wreak havoc. But Kerrigan ended up as a big hero, who ascended to space god status and saved everyone from the biggest bad around.
Will Sylvanas do the same? The above cinematic seems to imply she has a conscience after all, and Warcraft’s nicest boy is pulling on her heartstrings. But on the other hand, the cinematic frames her in the exact same pose as an iconic Lich King promo shot. There were similar comparisons after the Shadowlands cinematic trailer — it seems like a likely attempt for Blizzard to get fans thinking about the similarities between the two characters.
Blizzard has subverted the trope of the chosen one achieving redemption as recently as Legion. The first half of the story focused on Illidan, and the Naaru Xe’ra talked about how great he was, and why we should all feel ashamed that we had fought him in the Black Temple. Then, in a surprise twist, Illidan refused to work with Xe’ra. Instead, he murdered her, pulled a “heh, nothing personal, kid,” and proceeded to continue to do things his way.
It’s entirely possible Sylvanas has a similar send-off, where she remains in the Shadowlands or the Maw. We still don’t know her exact plan, or if she might betray the Jailer. That’s entirely within her character, and she’s been playing five-dimensional chess for long enough to make that a possibility.
But on the other hand, Sylvanas has murdered a lot of people and expressed very little remorse for any of it. The Burning of Teldrassil, the campaign in Gilneas, and the Horde civil war that she provoked are all very big problems. It doesn’t seem fair for Sylvanas to walk away as the good guy in any capacity after spending an expansion talking about killing hope and smiling as she torches civilians.
Will Sylvanas return to Azeroth in triumph, or become another raid boss laden with sweet loot drops? No matter what the outcome is, Sylvanas has been the most talked about part of World of Warcraft for years now, which is no small feat.