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Know Your Lore > WoWDec 7, 2018 2:00 pm CT

Know Your Lore: Sylvanas Windrunner and the Wrathgate

When we first made our foray into the frozen wastelands of Northrend, we weren’t sure what was in store for us. Certainly the Lich King was an ever-present threat, but the rest of Northrend was a relative mystery. And while the events of Wrath of the Lich King were often shrouded in tragedy, none was quite so tragic as the events at Angrathar the Wrathgate, where heroes from both factions met bitter ends with long-reaching consequences.

While there are those that would have you believe the Banshee Queen had nothing to do with the attack, they’d be wrong. In an interview last month, Creative Director Alex Afrasiabi pointed out that Sylvanas ordered the Wrathgate – which, if you’ve been following Sylvanas over the years, shouldn’t be much of a surprise. But hey – maybe it’s time for a little refresher regarding those points in recent history. Let’s take a closer look at what the Banshee Queen was up to not so long ago and how that reflects on the events of today.

Creating the Forsaken Blight

The plague used at the Wrathgate had been created under Sylvanas’ orders long, long ago. New Forsaken players back in vanilla were presented with this information almost immediately. Somewhere in the time in between Warcraft 3 and WoW, Sylvanas created the Royal Apothecary Society and tasked them with creating a new undead plague. The plague was initially intended to wipe out the Scourge – the undead that were still firmly under Arthas’ control.

But in addition to killing Scourge, the plague could also be used on the living – the Scarlet Crusade or even the Alliance. After their demise, the Forsaken Blight was supposed to raise a new Forsaken from the corpse, but this never really worked as planned. While tests produced ghouls from risen corpses, the ghouls almost immediately expired.

None of this, however, was done without Sylvanas’ knowledge — she ordered all of this research to begin with. And that additional purpose of the plague – to raise new undead loyal to the Forsaken – suggests that it wasn’t just on Icecrown Citadel that Sylvanas realized she should be finding new ways to create Forsaken. That little hook has been there all along, but the Banshee Queen simply didn’t have the means to accomplish it.

The supposed betrayal of Grand Apothecary Putress

The ringleader of the attack at the Wrathgate was Grand Apothecary Putress, a member of the Royal Apothecary Society. Putress wasn’t an unknown figure – during the zombie infestation leading up to our journey to Northrend, he was a vital part of research efforts to find a cure for the zombie plague. His efforts were successful, and it was that success – and his knowledge of the Blight – that led Sylvanas to offer his services to Thrall when it became apparent a trip to Northrend was going to be necessary.

It wasn’t until after the Wrathgate that Putress’ true allegiances became clear. He and several other members of the Royal Apothecary Society were no longer loyal to Sylvanas. They’d pledged their allegiances to Varimathras, and since the Forsaken Blight pretty much wiped out all life – undead and living alike – they were in a pretty good spot to engineer a coup.

But Sylvanas always knew what Putress was doing with the plague, and it’s entirely likely she was also aware of his newfound allegiance to Varimathras. Sylvanas wasn’t really concerned with what happened at the Wrathgate. She was much more concerned with what happened in the Undercity – and she quick to point out to Thrall that hundreds of her people were slain, and she barely escaped with her life in the coup.

Varimathras was never a true ally

And really, this all goes back to Varimathras. In Warcraft 3, the Burning Legion’s plans abruptly went off-kilter in Lordaeron when Arthas and the Lich King turned against them. Three Dreadlords were in charge of the proceedings on the Eastern Kingdoms – Detheroc, Balnazzar, and Varimathras. The three were unaware that the Legion had been defeated on Mount Hyjal, until Arthas arrived announcing Archimonde’s defeat and seeking to reclaim Lordaeron for the Lich King.

Without the Burning Legion’s forces to back them, the Dreadlords were left with few options, one of which was Sylvanas Windrunner and her Forsaken. They too held no love for the Lich King or Arthas, and together the two groups could perhaps bring Arthas to an end. They successfully drove Arthas from Lordaeron, and even though Arthas managed to escape to Northrend, Varimathras was pleased by their success. He approached Sylvanas and proposed an alliance – she and her Forsaken would become part of the Dreadlord’s new army.

Having so recently regained her freedom, Sylvanas wanted nothing to do with that, which is when she turned the tables on the Dreadlords. She set her forces on Varimathras, and he ended up begging for his life, swearing his services to her, and turning on the Burning Legion and his Dreadlord brothers.

But that wasn’t really going to last forever, was it? Certainly, Varimathras might have appeared loyal…but loyalty only went so far when it came to the Burning Legion. There was never really a point where Varimathras was actually loyal to the Banshee Queen. Sylvanas wasn’t an idiot – she knew this.

The fallout from the Wrathgate

Who really kicked off that coup in the Undercity?

I’ve always had a theory about Sylvanas being ultimately responsible for the Wrathgate. I mean…she engineered the plague. She wanted revenge against Arthas more than anything. The Wrathgate was the perfect location, strategically speaking, for her to unleash the Forsaken Blight and rid the world of the Lich King once and for all. The only problem was that it didn’t work as intended. Arthas escaped, the Red Dragons torched the Blight from the ground, and everyone – Alliance and Horde – was really angry at the Forsaken.

So…how do you recover from that kind of blunder? How about a little deflection?

Sylvanas knew that Varimathras wasn’t loyal – he wasn’t fooling anyone, least of all the Banshee Queen. She was likely well aware that Putress was also under Varimathras’ thumb. Putress was dangerous, and not just for his allegiances to the Burning Legion – he also knew exactly how much planning had gone into the Forsaken Blight. He knew who ordered the attack at the Wrathgate, and he could point the blame firmly at Sylvanas Windrunner.

That wouldn’t do.

Here’s the thing: We don’t actually know who started that coup in the Undercity. As players, we heard about it was from Thrall, who heard it straight from Sylvanas Windrunner. By the time we arrived at Grommash Hold, Sylvanas was already there, saying the Horde had no doing in the events at the Wrathgate – it was the result of a rogue faction loyal to the Burning Legion, led by Varimathras and Putress.

But did Varimathras kick off the coup because of the Wrathgate or did he have other reasons to do so? Did Sylvanas simply take the opportunity to confront him directly and force his hand? It always felt like the timing of this event was a little too convenient — and Sylvanas was all too willing to run to the Horde for help in her “desperate hour of need.” Naturally, both Alliance and Horde led assaults on the Undercity, and in the end, Varimathras and Putress were both slain. The Undercity was returned to Sylvanas, and she skipped away scot-free.

But the Wrathgate wasn’t entirely without repercussions

Well, not exactly scot-free, as new Warchief Garrosh Hellscream would continue to hound her afterwards. But she was certainly better off than she would have been if the truth had gotten out there. Sylvanas is deadly in a variety of ways that extend beyond her skills with a bow and her Forsaken abilities: she also has the keen analytical mind of a military leader. With the Battle for the Undercity, she managed to effectively wipe out Varimathras, who had been a persistent challenge to her authority, and Putress, whose knowledge could bring the ire of both factions down upon her.

And with the coup, Sylvanas could do something that otherwise wouldn’t be possible: present herself as a sympathetic figure. Poor Sylvanas, she nearly lost her life during that coup. She barely managed to escape, and lost the capital city she’d fought so hard to claim. Why of course we’ll help her out. This wasn’t her fault — it was the fault of those other Forsaken.

Meanwhile, Sylvanas could lie low, let the Horde and Alliance lead the charge into Icecrown, and continue to feign weakness until everyone forgot about the Wrathgate altogether. And it worked. Not only did it work in-game, but it appears to have worked out of game because there were plenty of people willing to believe that Sylvanas really had nothing to do with the Wrathgate. Despite the knowledge that she cultivated the existence of the Forsaken Blight and didn’t shy away from using it against anyone in later years. Gilneas got a taste of it when she flat-out ordered the city plagued right behind the back of a Horde General.

This is what makes Sylvanas Windrunner such an amazing character: she’s charismatic and diabolically brilliant. She’s been pulling these moves under our noses for years, and very few have thought about questioning them. Those that have simply disappeared over time – dead or just gone without a trace. And nobody’s really thought to question that, either.

Anduin’s right – he can’t defeat Sylvanas. Not on his own. Whether or not anyone will be able to…well, we’ll have to wait and see how Battle for Azeroth plays out.

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