I’m going to start this post differently. There have been a lot of requests to discuss Sylvanas Windrunner, so I imagine many of you will be happy to see this. That said, if you really want to understand Sylvanas Windrunner in our post-Cataclysm world, you need to read the short story Edge of Night. Period. I won’t spoil the nitty-gritty details, but I will say this: In between the end of WotLK and the beginning of Cataclysm, Lady Sylvanas Windrunner tried to kill herself, and in doing so she saw the agonizing Hell that awaits her.
The Val’kyr we now see at her side were the ones who saved her, and her fate is now tied with theirs. While it is they who serve her, should the remaining Val’kyr perish, she will die with them. That was their pact, and as of now, there are only four Val’kyr left.
And now that we’re all on the same page….
For the past five years, Sylvanas Windrunner has seen the Forsaken as little more than a weapon for taking her revenge on Arthas. She outright says this in Edge of Night. (Hey, what were you expecting from her? Warmth?). With Arthas dead though, the role of the entire Forasken race has now shifted in Sylvanas’ eyes. Instead of a weapon, Sylvanas now sees them as a fortress to protect her from the horrible afterlife that awaits her.
Here lies the issue. The Forsaken are not a weapon, nor are they a fortress. They are a people as varied as any other race, despite what the Forsaken stereotype may tell you. Sure, we’ve had Forsaken in the Argent Dawn, and there are other examples of “good” within the undead, but I believe there is one example that shines above the others, and it isn’t very well known. It’s a scene in the novel The Shattering:
In that novel, Cairne has been killed and the Grimtotem have taken Thunderbluff. Baine is in exile, trying to amass an army to take back his father’s city. While various Horde and even Alliance groups lend money and aid, there is one particular group that stands out: A battalion of Forsaken soldiers show up, ready to fight for Baine.
Consider this for a moment. The Forsaken have actually sent their own soldiers to defend another race. When Baine asks why they have come, they reply that Cairne Bloodhoof championed their entry into the Horde and they are there, because of that favor.
There is a common misconception that the Forsaken are quick to hold a grudge. No, that is incorrect. What the Forsaken do is “keep score”. They remember who has slighted them, but they also remember who has shown them good-will.
Now sure, there are cynics out there who spout that the Forsaken soldiers were only there, because the Grimtotem had been scheming with the Scourge. Frankly– that’s a load of bunk. Why? Because the Forsaken simply had no reason to lie. “Oh, you’re here because you hate the Grimtotem? Great, welcome aboard!” Beyond that, logistically, the whole point of that portion of the book was to show just how much everyone loved Cairne, even the Forsaken.
When the Forsaken arrived in remembrance of Cairne, it showed us they are capable of good-will, and more importantly, it also showed us that they are capable of honor.
So what’s my point? The Forsaken are anything but one sided. If anything, they’re incredibly complicated. The Forsaken keep score, and the Horde has been good to them. What started out as an “alliance of convenience”, has undoubtedly evolved. The Horde has proven they will stand up for the Undercity, and much of the Forsaken has undoubtedly noticed.
At this moment there is one question predominantly surrounding Sylvanas and the Forsaken, “What do the other races of Azeroth think of Sylvanas raising the dead with her Val’kyr? Is she becoming a Lich Queen?” That said, there’s an even better question; one much more intriguing: “What are the Forsaken going to think of Sylvanas raising the dead with her Val’kyr?”
We’ve established that the Forsaken are individuals, let alone complicated. It is therefore a complete misnomer to assume that the entire Forsaken race would be okay with this. Now don’t get me wrong, the Forsaken keep score and Lady Sylvanas has done a lot for them, and that could possibly win her the unquestioning support of her people. However…
Keep in mind where the Forsaken cynicism comes from. The Forsaken are a race of victims. Each and every one of them has had their death violated. That is what they all share, and that is what gave them their communal hatred of Arthas. With that in mind, what does it mean to the Forsaken now that Sylvanas is doing the same? It’s logical that at least some of them (probably a lot of them) aren’t going to like it. And how about those who Sylvanas has actually risen? Unless they’re under mind control, the undead tend to not think too fondly of those who raised them.
Granted, Sylvanas is only doing what she thinks is best for herself and her people. The Forsaken can not reproduce, so this is the only way to ensure their culture does not go extinct. The thing is, we’ve seen this before, and that gives us a pretty good guess as to what’s going to happen. Who am I talking about? The Blood Elves.
When the Sunwell was destroyed, the Elven leadership believed they had no choice but to accept a vile solution to a devastating problem in order to preserve their culture. And what happened? It split their people in two.
And that is what will inevitably happen now to the Forsaken. There will be those who agree with Sylvanas’ solution, and those who do not. Unlike the elves, however, those splinter groups who disagree with Sylvanas will (by definition) be unable to reproduce. Given time, this means they’ll die out.
That leaves us with a vicious cycle. Sylvanas will continue to raise the dead, splinter groups will break away then die out, and so this will go on indefinitely until something changes. What could change? Well– the Horde or Alliance could finally react. One of those splinter groups could even plausibly push the Horde into action. And consider this… As time goes by, the Forsaken risen by Sylvanas will inevitably begin to outnumber those raised by Arthas. Unless Sylvanas controls them, she could definitely find herself ruling over a population that hates her.
And what if she did control them? An undead queen, raising an army of undead under her complete control. If that didn’t stir the Argent Dawn into action, I don’t know what will.
So is it really inevitable that Sylvanas will be overthrown? If she continues on her current path, I’d say it is.
Keep in mind though that Blizzard has been a bit weird lately with their payoffs. For all we know, a Naaru could show up in the Undercity and announce, “Hey, you know– if you guys went and jumped into the Sunwell, it’d make you alive again. It won’t incinerate you.” Blizzard sometimes does stuff like that.
Either way though, it does leave us with a question. Who could possibly replace Sylvanas? Well… we do now arguably have a benevolent Lich King.
At the end of the day, Sylvanas now walks a very dark path. Her motives are no longer anger towards Arthas, but instead fear of the afterlife. What will it mean for the Forsaken to have Sylvanas now ruling in fear instead of anger? We’ll just have to wait and see.