Know Your Lore: The future of the Forsaken
Sylvanas Windrunner had a choice to make at the end of Wrath of the Lich King, and initially, she chose oblivion. It wasn’t until she realized that the entirety of the Forsaken would be left behind to fend for themselves and die out that she changed her mind. She made a pact with the Val’kyr, those that remained after the Lich King’s defeat, binding them all together — as long as they lived, so too would she. And from the Val’kyr, she would hold sway over life and death, able to raise more Forsaken for her ranks and allowing her people to carry on.
But did Sylvanas make this pact out of love for her people, out of the desire to see the Forsaken thrive and conquer, or merely because she was desperate to avoid the eternal darkness that awaited her after her ultimate demise? Sylvanas is an interesting character, and an even more interesting leader. In Legion, Sylvanas will play a larger role — but what the future holds for the Banshee Queen and her Forsaken is as much a mystery to us as it may very well be to Sylvanas herself.
Sylvanas and the Forsaken are an interesting case of a race that isn’t actually a race at all — if anything, the Forsaken are a splinter faction of the Scourge, independent and working for their own purposes. And up until Wrath of the Lich King, that purpose was absolutely clear: Kill the Lich King. Make the thing that had awoken them all from death to an eternity of suffering pay for its crimes. Sylvanas wasn’t so much a leader as she was a lightning rod in those first few hours as the leader of the Forsaken, they didn’t follow her out of some kind of loyalty or allegiance.
Instead, they followed her because she was the one creature who gave them all a sense of purpose, of duty. Originally the Lich King filled that role. Once his hold over the Forsaken broke and left them free, they were left with the memories of who they had been, what they had done while mindlessly serving the Scourge. Above and beyond that was the sinking realization, the unavoidable truth that no matter what happened, no matter what they did, they could never, ever go home again. Their lives were over, and yet they inexplicably lived on.
Sylvanas was the only one who stood tall, rallied them together and gave them something to fight for. Something to think about instead of who they used to be. She channeled what little emotions they had into anger, revenge, building them up again and giving them a reason to continue their existence. And they followed her with blind devotion because of it.
Lich King’s fall
It was that urge for vengeance that drove them all, and when the time came to take the fight to Northrend, Sylvanas was more than ready to storm the Lich King’s sanctum and see him pay. Yet in her eagerness, in that single-minded devotion that drove both her and the Forsaken onward, she forgot one very important thing. Once the Lich King was done for, once that revenge had been satisfied, that spark that drove her onward abruptly went out. And that’s when she made her decision, atop the frozen halls of Icecrown Citadel: Throw herself from the peak, utterly destroying herself and ending her torment for good.
Except it was the wrong choice. The only thing that awaited Sylvanas on the other side was oblivion. Dark, empty, and devoid of anything but hopeless despair, terror, fear and endless regret. It was there that she was approached by the Val’kyr, nine servants of Arthas, now bound to the will of the dormant Lich King, unable to move, to act, to do anything without a vessel to free them. They offered Sylvanas an exchange and a pact — they would return her to life, and as long as they lived, so too would she.
In that void, she had a vision of her people, and she realized what needed to be done. It wasn’t just a matter of her freedom, it wasn’t just a matter of her vengeance anymore. Like it or not, the Forsaken were her people, and without her, they would fall into nothing, callously used as tools of the Horde by Garrosh Hellscream, nothing more. Sylvanas took the pact with the Val’kyr, and one of the nine took her place in the void, leaving her with eight that were beholden to her as she was to them, free from the Lich King at last.
Given what she’d witnessed in the void, it was little wonder that Sylvanas’ next course of action was to try and begin to solve the problems of her people. She was alive, she had narrowly avoided oblivion, and she had the Val’kyr at her command. Her people were the Forsaken, unable to procreate, unable to suitably prove their worth to the Horde, so she found a way to create more through the Val’kyr. Suddenly, the Forsaken were growing in numbers again, loyal to Sylvanas thanks to the Val’kyr’s strange powers over life and death.
It was a beginning, and when she showed this aspect of her power to Garrosh Hellscream, she expected him to be pleased about it. Why wouldn’t he be — he wanted an army? She had a self-sustainable army that would only grow stronger and larger with each victory, each death it brought to bear. This, to her, was usefulness at its peak. But
Garrosh was an orc, part of a race that revered the spirits of the ancestors, which meant that the very idea of creating more undead disgusted him. And on top of that, he was wary of the Forsaken — for good reason. During Wrath of the Lich King, a rogue group of Forsaken nearly killed Sylvanas and took over the Undercity.
To Garrosh, that meant that Sylvanas didn’t have control over her people. And if she didn’t have control over the people she had, yet insisted on making more, that spelled potential disaster for the Horde. She took Gilneas as ordered, but had plans for her own involving the Scythe of Elune — a powerful artifact that we still don’t quite comprehend. Created from the fang of the Ancient Goldrinn, the Scythe was supposed to temper the rage of the worgen. Sylvanas may have seen it as a way to make the worgen easier to defeat — or perhaps she sought to quell Hellscream’s rage, or perhaps she had some other purpose we don’t fully understand. Regardless, the Scythe fell out of her hands, and was reclaimed by the night elves.
As for Gilneas, it was largely a loss. While Darius Crowley surrendered in exchange for the life of his daughter Lorna, the area was still under contention between the Alliance and Horde.
Sylvanas didn’t like the idea of attacking Theramore. She was downright against it when Garrosh Hellscream brought the notion before Horde leaders in the novel Tides of War. It wasn’t because she cared for the humans or the Alliance, however — it was because she rightfully assumed that the Alliance would take out their aggression on the Forsaken if the one major stronghold they had on the Eastern Kingdoms was compromised. Her wariness was noted, and when she sent a representative to the Siege, rather than attending herself, the representative was killed for questioning Garrosh’s actions.
That pretty much told Sylvanas everything she needed to know. Garrosh Hellscream needed to die. And yet again, it wasn’t out of any particular loyalty to the Horde, it was because the Warchief had made it blatantly clear that the Forsaken weren’t people to be respected, in his eyes, they were unnatural abominations that were simply cannon fodder for the Horde armies. He had no problem with using them, had no qualms with the idea of the Forsaken being wiped out completely.
But once Garrosh was taken to trial, Sylvanas suddenly had to deal with a different kind of issue — her sister Vereesa noted Sylvanas’ distaste for Garrosh, and suggested they bypass the trial and simply poison Garrosh in secret. Sylvanas was oddly pleased with the notion, delighted with the fact that her sister seemed just as vengeful a creature as herself, and suggested that Vereesa leave the Alliance and lead the Forsaken at her sister’s side. Unbeknownst to Vereesa, Sylvanas planned to kill and raise her sister in order to accomplish this, as the Forsaken were unlikely to follow one of the living as a leader.
Vereesa couldn’t do it. At the last possible moment, she warned Anduin that Garrosh’s food was poisoned, leaving the choice of whether or not to save the former Warchief in Anduin’s hands. And she sent a regretful note to her sister, informing Sylvanas of her decision. Sylvanas was handed a new, fresh kind of torment — Vereesa’s reappearance had given her hope, warmed her frozen heart, and despite herself, she was reminded of better days and the love she had for her sisters and her family. All of that was abruptly ripped away, leaving Sylvanas with the realization that she was alone, and would always be alone. After a bout of mercilessly killing any wildlife that got in her path, Sylvanas calmed herself, vowing never to attempt to love again.
That leaves us with Warlords, where Sylvanas really didn’t take a lot of action at all. She sent some Forsaken representatives, one to look into the curious properties of the Infested in Gorgrond, likely wondering how the plants of Draenor manipulated the dead. Another was sent to Admiral Taylor’s Garrison, to look into the spirits that haunted the place. Other than that, Sylvanas stayed her hand, remained on Azeroth and whatever she did while we were gone, we weren’t privy to that information.
But in Legion, it seems that Sylvanas is going to play a larger role, as she’s appeared on the official cast page. The summary for the Banshee Queen states, “Should Sylvanas perish, her demise will be the beginning of her eternal damnation. All that stand between her and this doom are her Val’kyr, yet few of these spirit guardians remain. As her fate edges closer to the abyss, Sylvanas must decide how far she’ll go to protect her people… and whether they’re more precious to her than her soul.”
Given the harsh lessons Sylvanas learned in War Crimes, it makes one wonder where she stands now. She has pride in her people, and at one point it seemed as though she felt, if not affection, a sense of duty to the Forsaken that simply could not be ignored. In Legion, we’ll apparently see the origins of the Val’kyr in the Halls of Valor — and it may be that we’ll understand more about that pact that Sylvanas made. As it stands, of the original nine Val’kyr who made the pact with Sylvanas, only four remain. It took three to raise Sylvanas in Silverpine, so her thoughts have to be turning to the fact that a fate of endless oblivion is close at hand, and possibly inevitable. Perhaps she’ll be searching for an alternative — or perhaps she’s seeking something more for the Forsaken, a new purpose to drive them forward and keep them strong.
After all, she’s all they have.
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