Know Your Lore: The Rise of the Lich King
I talked a bit last week about why the Scourge is potentially a greater threat now than it has been at any time since the end of the War in Northrend. The fact is, Bolvar Fordragon may be the most effective being to hold the position of Lich King since the Frozen Throne crashed into Icecrown.
He has none of the baggage of Ner’zhul or Arthas Menethil. He’s not the ‘Young heroes, I was once like you’ or ‘I was a shaman’ type. He’s not going to commiserate with us about the days he was a Paladin. The origins of the Lich King stretch back to Kil’jaeden’s decision to use Ner’zhul as the seed of another attempt to invade Azeroth, and as such, the Burning Legion is wholly complicit in the chain of events that led Bolvar to his current state. Bolvar’s grievances against the Legion are real and intense, especially if he retains any of the memories of the previous Lich Kings — Ner’zhul was tortured until his body was destroyed by Kil’jaeden and Arthas hated Mal’Ganis with a passion bordering on lunacy. Born out of slavery and torment, the Lich King has always stood in opposition to the Legion.
Bolvar, however, is a completely different kind of Lich King than his predecessors.
A New Lich King
Ner’zhul, it must be said, was a much better Shaman than he was a leader. Gul’dan deposed him and formed the Horde with minimal difficulty, and when Ner’zhul joined forces with Teron Gorefiend and formed the Horde of Draenor, his big plan to save his people ripped the planet apart. He was duped by Gul’dan and Kil’jaeden and easily manipulated into convincing his people that the Draenei were behind their problems, and the result of his credulity was the destruction of everything he held sacred. Then, when captured by Kil’jaeden, he broke under the threat of eternal torment and agreed to become the Legion’s agent on Azeroth. Yes, he hated Kil’jaeden, but let’s not be fooled — Ner’zhul’s only aim as the Lich King was to secure his own freedom from his Legion masters so he could wreak untold havoc for himself instead of doing so for them.
Arthas Menethil, on the other hand, was a brave and heroic sort who stumbled over his own ego. Both Arthas and Ner’zhul shared that, to a degree — a personal arrogance so great that they couldn’t see when they were being tricked. Presented with Mal’Ganis’ deceptions Arthas grew angrier and more determined to end the Dreadlord at any cost, a path which led him to Northrend and his ultimate fate. The things that made Arthas a good paladin — his indomitable spirit, his zeal for righteous retribution — were the exact same things that damned him.
Bolvar didn’t take up the Helm of Domination under duress, as Ner’zhul did, and he wasn’t duped the way Arthas was when he picked up Frostmourne. He knew exactly what he was doing. But now, after years atop the Frozen Throne, what has he decided to do?
What the King seeks
We know that Bolvar lost control of the Scourge operating in the Plaguelands when he became the Lich King — they devolved into a mob of disparate death worshippers, many of whom fight among one another for dominion over the area. Scholomance, for example, is run by Darkmaster Gandling although as of now he may be considered truly dead following the events of Mists of Pandaria and the raid on Scholomance by Lilian Voss. The point is, neither the Forsaken nor the Scourge in Northern Lordaeron currently obey the will of the Lich King.
But the Lich King has taken steps to increase his power. First off, Bolvar made a deal with the Ebon Blade — the Death Knights would serve as the tools of his vengeance against the Legion, and in return Bolvar would refrain from using the Scourge directly against the Legion (leaving them penned up in Northrend) and aid the Death Knights in finding weapons of awesome power to use against the Legion. This is a masterstroke for a variety of reasons. It gives him a position of influence over the Ebon Blade (one that will only grow stronger, as we’ll discuss soon) and it preserves his own power base. Instead of spending his Undead troops against Legion forces that can literally return from death itself, Bolvar can husband the armies of the Scourge in case the mortal races fail, and also in discovering these Artifacts for the Ebon Blade he increases their indebtedness to him.
But that’s not all. Bolvar recreates the Four Horsemen, this time choosing notable tacticians and generals such as Nazgrim, Thoras Trollbane and Sally Whitemane (the brains behind the Scarlet Monastery) to serve him in undeath. They each have their own reasons for accepting their role as Horsemen, but the fact remains — with the death and rebirth of Darion Mograine as the Fourth Horseman, Bolvar now has four powerful lieutenants to serve him. Worse, the Deathlord herself (or himself, depends on what you’re playing) is essentially serving the Lich King as a proxy. With the recovery of Rimefang’s Harness, the Scourge now has a new weapon to unleash upon the Legion, a powerful Frost Wyrm slaying many demons with air supremacy.
Each King must overcome
But it’s Bolvar’s role in the creation of the Blades of the Fallen Prince that has me most suspicious. Bolvar leads the Deathlord up through Icecrown Citadel, where he slays unfortunate victims that fell to Frostmourne and reclaims the shards of the weapon, and uses his unholy power to remake the runeblade as two weapons. He then sends the player into the blades, where they confront the spirits or shades of… Arthas Menethil and Ner’zhul.
Arthas I can understand — he forfeited his soul when he touched Frostmourne. But what was Ner’zhul doing in there? And what was Bolvar’s aim in sending the Deathlord in to defeat Arthas, when Ner’zhul escapes — no, worse, he simply leaves?
Well, remember that the transition was said to be so difficult for Bolvar that he lost control of the Scourge in the Eastern and Western Plaguelands. This mirrors what happened to the Lich King himself when he began weakening from the damage he did to the Frozen Throne when he drove Frostmourne out of it, back when he was planning his escape from the Legion. We were told in Arthas that the presence of Ner’zhul was destroyed, and it was that struggle that kept Arthas on his throne unable to act until he finally completed it. What if defeating Arthas and Ner’zhul inside the Blades of the Fallen Prince was Bolvar’s version of that? What if he didn’t make that deal with the Ebon Blade because he wanted to hold the Scourge back, but rather because he couldn’t use them to their fullest until the remnants of his predecessors were dealt with? Now, Bolvar is free to act, and the faction of Death Knights that turned against Arthas are his most loyal supporters. The leader of all Death Knights is either Darion, who is one of Bolvar’s Four Horsemen, or its the Deathlord, who takes marching orders directly from Bolvar himself.
Now this leaves us with the perennial question of what Bolvar will do once the Legion is dealt with. Well, Ebon Blade loyalists like Thassarian and Koltira aren’t likely to come to Sylvanas’ defense, considering that she imprisoned the latter and the Deathlord herself had to break into Undercity to free him at Thassarian’s behest. Bolvar clearly intends to reclaim authority over all the former servants of the previous Lich Kings. I expect him to make moves against the Scourge in the Plaguelands and then, perhaps, try and subvert the Forsaken just as he has the Ebon Blade. And Sylvanas is desperate enough to find a way to perpetuate her people that she may listen. After all, Bolvar isn’t the one who murdered her, and those Val’kyr she’s holding on to were capable of much greater feats when being channeled the raw necromantic power of the Lich King.
Plus, after Helya’s death, the Lich King directly raises a host of Sveldrek Vrykul through his servants in the Ebon Blade. Who’s to say Bolvar won’t make a push into Helya’s Shadowlands?
The Scourge has a powerful and terrifying leader once again, and we may have aided him in getting there. Daumyr the Thorignir Broodmother has replaced Sindragosa, he has a new Four Horsemen, and with Helya dead he could well claim many of the Vrykul who’ve abandoned Odyn and the Keepers.
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