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Know Your Lore: The rise of Sylvanas as the Banshee Queen

When last we looked at Sylvanas Windrunner, she had died at the hands of Arthas Menethil, servant of the Lich King. Now we look at what happened after she died: how she went from the Ranger-General of Silvermoon to the Banshee Queen of the Forsaken.

Death was a hard demarcation line for Sylvanas — the being she became only resembles the person she was in general terms. Yet she retains her memories of her life before undeath, and in many ways, it is those memories that so utterly torments her. To be Forsaken is to be divorced from life, and for someone like Sylvanas it is a special hell to remember everything yet no longer be able to feel those emotions without the agony of their bereavement.

Now we talk of the rise of the Banshee Queen, she who had been Ranger-General, she who was and would be Sylvanas Windrunner.

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Risen against her will

When Arthas finally managed to defeat Sylvanas (due in great part to the aid of the High Elf traitor Dar’khan Drathir) he drove Frostmourne through her body, but he didn’t kill her immediately. No, allowing Sylvanas to rest was never part of the plan. From the first moment Arthas entered the forests controlled by Quel’Thalas on his way to the Sunwell, Sylvanas made him fight for every inch of ground and he was enraged beyond reason with her for it. Now he chose to make her pay in kind and well past it, channeling the necromancy granted to him by the Lich King.

Arthas took Sylvanas’ body and used it to tear her soul back through the veil of death, imprisoning it in a horrid mockery of itself: a wailing banshee. Trapped in a spectral form, her desecrated corpse was hurled onto a wagon. Later, Arthas would seal it in a coffin to further insult Sylvanas for her role in the defiance of the High Elves against the Scourge.

In life, Sylvanas’ defiance against Arthas and her superb holding action had bought her people life against the relentless, near-innumerable Scourge. In death she was given powers far beyond those of other banshees and forced to serve his will, a further cruelty the fallen prince inflicted upon her. It amused him to see the banshee that was once Sylvanas obeying him.

It would not amuse him forever.

The banshee

When Arthas killed the High Elf monarch Anasterian Sunstrider, Sylvanas was there, watching helplessly. When Arthas used the Sunwell to raise Kel’thuzad, Sylvanas was there. When the Lich used a Demon Gate to communicate with Archimonde, who commanded the destruction of Dalaran, Sylvanas was there — even managed to mock Arthas for the brief moment of hesitation he felt at the possibility that Jaina Proudmoore might be in Dalaran at the time. But Sylvanas was helpless to oppose his wishes. In death, she was under his control.

Become a Watcher

In time she became one of his generals, left behind in Lordaeron after Arthas had gone west to Kalimdor following Archimonde’s arrival on Azeroth. Lorded over by the dreadlords Varimathras, Balnazzar, and Detheroc, she was unable to defy the hold of the Scourge. When Arthas returned and informed the dreadlords of the Legion’s defeat and Archimonde’s death, Sylvanas found herself directly serving the self-proclaimed King as he attempted to purge Lordaeron of all life in an act of obeisance to his master, the Lich King. She served with no particular desire, merely the compulsion born of the necromancy Arthas had used to raise her. Yet those powers were weakening.

Ner’zhul’s reign as the Lich King had been due to the actions of Kil’jaeden, and with the Legion’s defeat, the Lich King had finally gotten some small measure of revenge on them for his transformation. But forcing Frostmourne through his icy prison so it could be found and used by Arthas — corrupting the prince fully and transforming him into a Death Knight — damaged the magic that confined his soul within the Helm of Domination. Now, Ner’zhul’s powers were waning and with them, Arthas’ powers. Sylvanas found herself regaining control and along with many of her loyal banshees began making plans for Arthas’ demise. She agreed to ally with the dreadlords who also sought Arthas’ death, but on her own terms.

Thus, when the dreadlords attacked a weakened Arthas, Sylvanas’ banshees led him to ‘safety’ which was itself a carefully constructed trap.

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Hail the Queen of the Forsaken

Sylvanas had taken the opportunity presented by the Lich King’s waning power to reclaim her body. Using the powers Arthas had granted her, she possessed it and once again walked in flesh — albeit dead flesh. As Arthas had sought to mock and torment her, now Sylvanas returned the favor, firing a special poisoned arrow into him that paralyzed the traitor prince of Lordaeron. He bellowed in rage and demanded that she finish him off, but she reminded him of his words to her when she’d demanded a clean death. She had no intention of granting him death at all. She would, instead, make him suffer.

Intending to settle down to a long period of torment, Sylvanas was interrupted by the Kel’Thuzad, who destroyed her banshees and forced her to withdraw. Soon Arthas was gone from Lordaeron, striving to return to Northrend and the Lich King. This left Sylvanas in an unusual position. The three dreadlords who allied with her now sought utter control of Lordaeron, yet the Scourge no longer held the region. Those converted to undead by Arthas were slowly becoming free of the Lich King’s grasp, and these forsaken souls regained a measure of their former selves only to find themselves trapped in a horror of an existence. Sylvanas could understand it all too well. Dominated by the Lich King, she’d had no choice but to follow a dangerous tyrant, but now she could decide for herself what course of action to take.

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The former Ranger-General put every ounce of the strategic acumen that had helped her fend off Arthas’ advance to the task of defeating the dreadlords. She used her banshees to possess allies, rallied her forces, and even turned Varimathras against his own Nathrezim kin. Even Garithos, the last remnant of the former Alliance of Lordaeron in the region, allied with her to help defeat the dreadlords, expecting to profit by the arrangement. And Sylvanas drove each of the dreadlords out of the positions of power they’d claimed with Arthas’ withdrawal, going so far as to order Varimathras to slay Balnazzar. (He didn’t actually do it, but that would only come out later.) She also had him kill Garithos, and in so doing ended any threat of an immediate attempt to reclaim Lordaeron by the living. Instead, it became home to her growing nation of the dead.

Thus Sylvanas went from a mere ruler of a handful of banshees to a true Banshee Queen, unquestioned ruler of the region around Lordaeron. It was Sylvanas who coined the name Forsaken to describe those undead who had regained their wills, and it was her rule that gave them a homeland of their own. In a way, it was a return to her role as a responsible leader, but warped by the indignities she’d suffered and the torture of her undead existence. Now it was the Forsaken who looked to her, and she would defend them and herself.

Next time we conclude this look at Sylvanas by detailing what she’s done in the years since becoming Banshee Queen, including her role in Legion.

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