Serial(ized) KillersAugust 10, 2018
Last week, Sylvanas burned down a tree.
Warcraft is a fantastic universe wherein a bunch of people stab each other over the slightest provocation. There have been several board-, card-, and roleplaying games set in the land of Azeroth, but for most people know it from either Hearthstone or World of Warcraft, respectively the 7th and 6th top grossing PC games in April of this year. A multi-week event is going on right now leading up to WoW’s latest expansion, Battle for Azeroth.
Sylvanas Windrunner used to be an elf but is now a banshee that possesses her own corpse. She got promoted to Warchief of the Horde — one of the player factions — after some demons stabbed the last one to death. After both factions teamed up to put down the invading army of infinite demons led by a mad titan, Sylvanas has decided to wage preemptive war on the Alliance ostensibly to protect the Horde but likely for her own reasons alone. To this end, she burned down a tree.
That tree was the night elf capital, Teldrassil.
There were a few thousand elves in it at the time.
It was a big tree.
Last Time on World of Warcraft
So that titan I mentioned earlier stabbed the planet – as you do – and now there’s magic blood coming out of the planet that’s basically a magical supercharger and both sides are making weapons out of the stuff. So Sylvanas makes the Alliance think she’s sending an army to collect it. When they commit to stopping that army, she feints and goes to the big tree where the elves live.
She wants to capture Teldrassil because it’s a big port the Alliance can use to ship weapons and troops into Horde territory. If she has a civilian population under occupation, the Alliance might be disinclined to attack the Horde lest there should be some reprisal for it. There’s a big invasion, a lot of people die, and once they get to the tree Sylvanas has a heart-to-heart with the night elf commander, Delaryn Summermoon. Note that, at this point, Delaryn is basically a pincushion:
The cinematic left a lot of players nonplussed. It seems like Sylvanas junked her plans just to spite a dying woman, though there are some extenuating factors. For those who followed the games closely, Blizzard had telegraphed the event over a year ago but was coy as to its context. This led the playerbase to believe there were other factors at play, but when there wasn’t some twist – at least, not yet – it looked like a familiar situation.
Context is Key
Before Mists of Pandaria, three WoW expansions ago, then-Warchief Garrosh Hellscream destroyed Theramore, an Alliance city, with a mana bomb (read: magical nuke). Garrosh escalated the conflict until the Horde fractured over his dishonorable behavior and he became the final boss of the expansion. If you scrub off the serial numbers, Sylvanas seems poised to go down the same way.
This isn’t the only hint of repetition. Battle for Azeroth begins with the siege of Lordaeron and the Undercity, Sylvanas’s home digs, in retaliation for Teldrassil. However, in Wrath of the Lich King, the Alliance laid siege to the Undercity in retaliation for the Wrathgate, a catastrophic event also pinned on Sylvanas. Ultimately she wasn’t responsible, but the battle took out would-be usurpers and left Sylvanas with a stockpile of chemical weapons she was happy to use later on.
The Alliance has a history of taking the L whenever the Horde’s involved, while the Horde comes out of the eventual reckoning either on even terms or slightly ahead. If Sylvanas will meet any repercussions for her actions or if she’ll assume the traditional Warchief position of loot piñata remains to be seen. Fortunately for her, Sylvanas is one of the game’s most popular characters. She’s just delightfully evil, like Skeletor in a corset.
Sylvanas gets away with what she wants, which annoys the Alliance. She’s ruthless and dishonorable, which annoys the Horde. And her story feels like a retread, which annoys everyone.
But people are engaged, otherwise they wouldn’t be salty.