Know Your Lore: The future of Death Knights as an Allied Race class
Death Knights are in an interesting space right now. They’re nowhere near the focus of anyone’s attention, and yet perhaps they should be. The Death Knights of the Ebon Blade are just as resolved to end the Burning Legion as anyone. And yet their methods are questionable, to say the very least. With the player serving in the role of Deathlord, one would think the Ebon Blade is firmly under their control. That may be a severely incorrect assumption.
Players have been eagerly watching the announcements of new Allied Races, hoping to see new Death Knights in the mix. Unfortunately, that option isn’t really on the table…at least not anytime soon. Part of it is discrepancies in gameplay — after all, current Death Knights start at level 55. Allied Races, on the other hand, start at level 20. But a larger chunk of the reasoning is tied up in lore. To better understand why Death Knights aren’t a viable class for Allied Races, we need to take a look at their history.
Origins of the Death Knights
Death Knights have a long and storied history. They aren’t born: they’re created. It’s not an easy process, and it takes someone with enormous amounts of power to pull it off. There have been several generations of Death Knights over the course of Azeroth’s history. The first were creations of Gul’dan, who merged the souls of slain Warlocks and bodies of Stormwind’s fallen knights. Teron Gorefiend was the first Death Knight, an orcish soul in the corpse of a Human man. These Death Knights pre-dated the creation of the Lich King, and largely died out in the Second War.
The second “generation,” as it were, of Death Knights was created by the Lich King. The first of these was the most famous: Arthas Menethil. Again, there’s a kind of creation going on here, but in a substantially different way. Arthas wasn’t raised as a corpse. His soul was simply claimed by the Lich King, as were the others that came after him. Twisted and bound to the Lich King’s will, they were loyal servants, dominated by the Lich King’s vast consciousness.
The third “generation” came after Arthas boldly shattered the Frozen Throne and took on the Helm of Domination himself. Once again, these Death Knights served the Lich King – but this time, they were corpses raised solely for that purpose. Death Knights raised in this third generation were pretty much bound to the Lich King’s will, with few exceptions. Those that showed any sign of emotion, memory, or fear – anything that indicated a tie to their former lives – were disposed of.
Originally, Gul’dan created the Death Knights to serve as powerful soldiers for Doomhammer’s Horde. Gorefiend and his fellow Death Knights served that purpose even after Gul’dan fled the scene. But the Lich King’s Death Knights were different.
Acherus and the Ebon Blade
Because their souls had essentially fallen to darkness, these later generations lacked free will. They’d given themselves over to the Lich King and his unholy cause. This included the Death Knights of Acherus, a vast regiment stationed just outside the Scarlet Enclave in the Eastern Plaguelands. Highlord Darion Mograine led the regiment, but he was as much a thrall of the Lich King as anyone else. Highlord he might be, but when it came to calling the shots, he reported to the Lich King just as anyone else.
But something happened at the Battle for Light’s Hope Chapel. It was revealed that the Lich King had essentially created Acherus for the sole purpose of luring Tirion Fordring out of hiding. He was perfectly willing to sacrifice every Death Knight pledged to his service in order to accomplish that task. But the Lich King underestimated the latent power of Light’s Hope. In a brilliant burst of Light, the Lich King’s hold over Acherus was broken… and a very different generation of Death Knight was born.
The Knights of the Ebon Blade are something entirely new. They are essentially equivalent to the Forsaken: former Scourge that have broken free of the Lich King’s will. And just as the Forsaken sought revenge against the Lich King, so too did the Ebon Blade. However, the Ebon Blade had a leg up over the Forsaken. Although the Forsaken were reviled by the Alliance and their former kin, Death Knights of the Ebon Blade were welcomed into either faction. Perhaps with a certain degree of wariness involved, but they were still allowed to do something the Forsaken could never do.
They were allowed to return home.
The Deathlord and the Ebon Blade in Legion
As far as the WoW timeline goes, once we killed the Lich King, the creation of new Death Knights was over. The events at Light’s Hope Chapel take place in the past – new Death Knights in that starting area are essentially replaying the events of Wrath. There are no future generations. However, the Ebon Blade may not be entirely content to simply die out. In Warlords, Darion Mograine took a trip to alternate Draenor. There, he hoped to unlock the secrets of the Frozen Throne – the secrets of Ner’zhul, the original Lich King.
Nothing seemed to come to pass from his studies, or nothing that we as players were witness to, anyway. And in Legion, the story of the Ebon Blade takes a sudden turn with the emergence of an unexpected ally. With Bolvar Fordragon sitting on the Frozen Throne as the new Lich King, the Death Knights of the Ebon Blade willingly offer to act as his agents, striking out against the Burning Legion. In exchange, they want the Scourge to remain in Northrend. To aid in the fight against the Legion, the Lich King offers new, powerful weapons to a new champion of the Ebon Blade – the Deathlord.
As the new Deathlord, players carry out the Lich King’s tasks, including raising a new set of Four Horsemen. The original Four Horsemen were raised by Kel’Thuzad, using unholy power gifted to him from the Lich King back in the day. Now you have that same power – and you have a list of names. One by one the Lich King’s chosen are raised by your hand. The last was meant to be Tirion Fordring, but that turned out to be more difficult a task than it looked. Instead, Darion Mograine takes the fourth spot.
Death Knights and Allied Races
The reason we don’t see Death Knights as a viable class for any Allied Races is simple. The last generation of Death Knights were created in Wrath. There are no existing Death Knights of any of these Allied Races. The Nightborne, Highmountain, and Lightforged were isolated and distant during Wrath. The Void Elves didn’t exist back then. The Zandalari are all relegated to Zandalar, Kul Tirans are obviously out on Kul Tiras. Mag’har Orcs are all from that strange alternate version of Draenor. A case maybe could be made for the Dark Iron, but it’s highly unlikely. They didn’t fight in the Third War, and they didn’t get involved in the fallout. They certainly weren’t allies with anyone during Wrath – they were busy tending to their own business in Blackrock Spire.
At the moment, the only person with the power to create Death Knights is… you, the player. Whether or not your powers remain once that fourth Horseman is raised is uncertain, since were basically granted that power to fulfill that particular task. Once that task was completed, there’s not much reason for you to have it anymore, is there? And with the defeat of the Burning Legion, your alliance with the Lich King is also presumably at an end. After all, the Ebon Blade agreed to act as the Lich King’s agents against the Burning Legion. The Legion is gone – therefore, there is no further obligation.
At least, we’d like to think that. But there may be more going on here than is immediately apparent. Next week, we’re going to take a closer look at the Lich King’s actions in Legion, and what they may mean for the future of Azeroth.
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