As a fun feature for the week, with Blizzconline on Friday, I thought it would be an interesting exercise to roam through what remains of the current 9.0 experience needing resolution from a variety of viewpoints – characters, lore points, gameplay, and systems. Finally, before things go live on Friday, I’ll attempt to tie my posts together into a single prediction post about the news we’ll get about WoW this weekend!
As a story-focused post with speculation grounded in the current lore, this post has spoilers for 9.0 Shadowlands content and discussion of fan theories.
First up is the characters that have obvious lore dangling for us to discover! The interesting thing about this point in Shadowlands from a story perspective is that, even removing characters that have only been insinuated as having story to tell, there are a lot of characters remaining in the story with things going on.
So let’s start with the currently seen characters of Shadowlands and work our way forward to the potential future characters.
Margrave Vyraz: I list this big lug first because I think he’s in our immediate future in 9.1, not to spoil my later posts in this series. Of the Covenant story arcs, the only one with a large outstanding immediate threat to the local forces is the Necrolords. At the conclusion of the leveling story, the Houses of Maldraxxus are turned against our allies, led by the House of the Chosen and Vyraz, the betrayer. We’ve managed to thwart his immediate plot, but he remains scheming in the background. The Covenant campaign then sees us remedy much of the disarray of the houses, but at the end, Vyraz and the House of the Chosen remain as an outstanding threat. Leaning on the BfA and Legion structure, the x.1 patch remains focused on existing, expansion-specific threats, and so I think that Vyraz is going to be our next, most immediate concern.
The Mograines: Dovetailing nicely with the Vyraz points, the story of Maldraxxus in leveling introduces us to an obvious point for further exploration – Darion Mograine discovering his father in the Maw at your side. The family reunion is cut short, but it seems rather obvious that the familial bond of these two characters will explored further, both because Darion obviously would like to bond with his father more, but also because the very reason Alexandros is in Maldraxxus to begin with and not Bastion is due to the strength he gets from his family and their memory. I feel like a safe bet might be that Vyraz attempts to murder Darion and that leads to some plot development on both sides, but we’ll have to see!
Tyrande Whisperwind: The Night Fae story takes the subtext of the Night Warrior power and makes it text – the power surges through the host and will eventually, if not managed, tear them apart. Tyrande has to find someone(s) to share the power with, to bond and save herself from the harm that the rapidly growing power of Elune will do to her. Will she do it in time? We’ll surely find out. Longshot guess – this is how we’re going to end up getting Covenant-agnostic Soulbinds introduced to us, or at the very least we will see existing major lore characters Soulbind-able through future events along Covenant lines, as each faction has an existing lore character or two it can tie to.
Kel’Thuzad: Back to Maldraxxus, or not, since he went off into the (presumably) Maw as part of the Maldraxxus covenant campaign. Kel’Thuzad is a fun punching bag in the lore, and his work with the Jailer to destabilize the Houses of Maldraxxus warrants further exploration and punishment. That being said, he’ll have to be bridged in carefully, as depending on your Covenant choice, you might not even know he’s in the story!
The Primus: The biggest sort-of open secret in the game right now is that we have been interacting with the Primus for much of our level 60 time, as he would seem to be the very same Runecarver that uses his one hand to make Legendaries for us. (I almost wrote “cranking out” but in combination with “one hand” I didn’t like where that sentence went.) His story has a lot of interesting contours to present, as the nature of his disappearance from Maldraxxus, captivity in Torghast, and the length of his service to the Jailer remain sort of hidden away. The implication of the 15-memory cutscene with the Jailer is that he made a new Helm of Domination and mourneblade (or maybe made the original Lich King trappings?) and if it is indeed the mourneblade that we see Sylvanas brandish at Anduin in the post-Denathrius kill Bolvar cutscene, then we have to wonder if the Runecarver is in danger for making us items, if he serves the Jailer further, or if our legendary items are indeed imbued with some more sinister power that may allow the Jailer some measure of tracking or control. A lot of plot threads run through this character!
Kael’Thas Sunstrider: Kael’Thas is merely a setback! All joking aside, his afterlife version clearly has to find a place in the world of the Shadowlands, and a parade of familiar faces as the lore characters begin to cross into the story more may challenge him or create opportunities for the type of atonement the Venthyr look to accomplish. Should his path cross with those of Arthas or Sylvanas, things should get interesting, and while I’d like to think his presence in Revendreth is a face turn for the scheming Blood Elf, a team-up with Sylvanas could create a potentially interesting story.
Uther: The cornerstone of the fairly self-contained Kyrian Covenant campaign, Uther’s presence in the Shadowlands allowed us a different look at the perpetual do-gooder, where his tendency towards justice veered towards a darker path for once (you mean the Light sometimes takes things too far and ends up in a bad space for it? Why, that theme has never been explored in WoW! What do you mean, “who’s X’era and Exarch Yrel from the Mag’har Orc allied race quest?”) Uther’s story has both Shadowlands and non-Shadowlands paths to take, as he has to undergo a shift to the Ascended Kyrian after being one of the original Forsworn, while also dealing with the number of friends and proteges he’ll surely cross paths with. From Jaina to Bolvar to Arthas himself, Uther has quite a road of reminiscence to cross to the other side of.
Anduin: When last we left the Little Lion, he was imprisoned in Torghast under the direct supervision of the Jailer and Sylvanas Windrunner. His fate at the moment is pretty fully in Sylvanas’ hands, as the implication of our last cutscene between the two is that Anduin was being offered a choice between willingly serving or being made to serve under the Jailer, but he (seemingly correctly) observed that Sylvanas struggles with forcing him to serve. His plight is obviously one of the main story pillars of the expansion, being that he was heavily involved in us getting to the Shadowlands (well, as much as “being kidnapped” counts as an action on his part) and so I expect we’ll be visiting and revisiting his fate until we reach the point where we raid Torghast and take on the Jailer and Sylvanas. What direction will he end up going in? Well…that’s not in scope for today, but I have a few impressions to share later this week!
The Jailer: Obviously our main villain of sorts, but the challenge remains that for as much of a threat as he has been made out to be, he isn’t really all that well established in the lore as of yet. He brought Sylvanas to his side over a decade ago and through that relationship has worked to create death and destruction across Azeroth, but to what ends that all serves, we still don’t have a clue. We know that at some point, The Jailer was Zovaal of the First Ones and was a part of the ruling cadre of the Shadowlands, but something happened at some point which caused him to be exiled to the Maw. Visually, his design has a lot of similarities to the Arbiter, so…a lot of hints and hooks to explore with our boy Zovaal!
The Arbiter: Understanding of how the Shadowlands functions begins with The Arbiter, but there is a problem, which is that she has been out of commission for our whole journey through the realms of death. She rules over Oribos, which has been our homebase for the expansion so far, but she has been unconscious for the entirety of that experience. A lot of loose threads tie her to the plot – why did she go unconscious, who or what caused the souls to flow to the Maw, what role will she play when she revives, and more.
Sylvanas: Obviously enough, Sylvanas is currently working with the Jailer and working on bringing Anduin to their side.
Next, let’s talk about characters for whom we have the implication of upcoming stories, but no active role as of yet in the Shadowlands story.
Arthas: The obvious mega-star waiting in the wings, so many plot threads and characters run through Arthas. We know he’s in the Maw, but in what capacity is completely unknown. So many of his plot threads here involve him, and he’s had his role directly or indirectly in the plight of a majority of the characters in the main Shadowlands lore, both the natives of the Shadowlands and those visiting from Azeroth.
Varian Wrynn: Varian is pretty well extinguished from the WoW lore at this point, but Shadowlands does pose new opportunities, and the possibility definitely exists that he could come back. I name him here for two reasons – one, after drafting this post, I only have one off-screen character in Arthas, and two, because there is a minute chance that we see more of him solely because it would be a powerful motivator in many forms for Anduin. The interesting thing from the Q&A post-Shadowlands unveil at Blizzcon 2019 is that the lore of the game from the recent Chronicle books is told from the perspective of the Titans. In two ways, I think it could work – the game is a living work of art and things change, but in lore, we cannot trust that any of the NPCs we interact with have a full, unvarnished view of the way things work in the universe of Warcraft. If Blizzard thinks there is a story to tell with Varian, he will absolutely reappear, and I think that could be fascinating. Not sure quite what the hook would be, but my suspicion is that it would be weaponized against Anduin.
Lastly, we have one other category of lore NPCs worth discussing – those barely present in the current story.
Jaina: Likely to be involved once Anduin is to be rescued or Arthas takes the stage.
Bolvar: I categorize Bolvar as minor for now because his role in the current lore is underwhelming. I do, however, think that he’ll have a very important role to fulfill when the Jailer is our primary focus, and in the meantime, he is likely to continue to guide us back to Torghast as that mode expands through future updates.
Taelia Fordragon: She’s…in the Shadowlands, for now. Hasn’t really played a role in the current story other than pestering her dad to do stuff sometimes, but I think she’ll be involved in whatever ultimate role Bolvar takes. If that ends up being positive for her or not is…hard to say, but she’ll definitely be around for that.
Calia Menethil: This one is a layup – her brother’s tormented soul is thrashing around in the Maw and we’re sure to see them interact once he’s around in the story. Her Lightforged nature will likely defend her or save her from some sort of attempt to bring her harm and may in fact be what unravels some of Sylvanas’ plans. My longshot bet is that over the long term, she’ll end up pushing us to a Light theme and be part of how we arrive at a future expansion (maybe 10.0?) but I think she would likely be an ally against an oppressive light in that event. For now, she’s setting the scene for Arthas and will be there for when he arrives.
Baine: Other than Bolvar, one of the closest allies of Anduin in the lore, and both are (conveniently!) in the Shadowlands. Baine’s role feels tied to Anduin here more than as a representative of the Horde or the Tauren, at least from the lore we have thus far. I predict he’ll be tied up in whatever Anduin ends up doing, for better or worse.
Thrall: Thrall is an interesting one. I want to say I don’t feel like we have much to explore with him, but at the same time, the fact that there’s a panel dedicated to him on the Blizzconline schedule tells me there’s more there. Typically, these panels focus on past lore characters, but put some emphasis on where things are headed. In the tail end of Mists of Pandaria, Garrosh’s VA did a lot of voice panels for the genesis of that stage at Blizzcon, and at Blizzcon 2015, Michael McConnohie did a live read of the Lich King with live-dubbed filters for the authentic sound, after Legion was announced but before the Lich King’s presence in the DK order hall was confirmed. That all raises my hackles, so all I can say is this – right now, Thrall is sort of an aimless helper in the lore of Shadowlands, but he seems to be the most put together of the lore NPCs we’ve rescued from Torghast to date. What role he’ll play as we move forward is sort of mysterious, but he’ll have strong things to say about Sylvanas surely, and if Garrosh comes into the fold, surely there will be lore there as well. Speaking of…
Garrosh Hellscream: This asshole is supposedly kicking around Revendreth, being the anima battery that single-handedly pushed Denathrius’ anima reserves and thus, indirectly, fueled the Jailer. Great job, you Orc supremacist jerk! Casting aside that, though – I’m not sure if I can predict how Garrosh will enter the scene, if at all. On the one hand, Blizzard has been leaning on letting us know that Garrosh was in the Revendreth Afterlives animatic and been pretty coy about telling us more, but on the other hand, his role in that cinematic could have been any orc, and it was only by being told that we knew. If the reaction to him being around is fiercely negative (and it might be!) they could pull the ripcord and leave him out. I believe we will see him, and it’ll involve Thrall and perhaps Vol’jin in some fashion, but to what ends or what type of content, I couldn’t say.
Vol’jin: He was our big foreshadowing device – and we got to see Bwonsamdi and Mueh’zala because of him! He’s also present in the Night Fae campaign, having taken on the last of Rezan’s powers after an attempt at rescuing the T-Rex loa from the Maw. His story has had some partial playout as is, with De Other Side being about getting at Mueh’zala for pushing Sylvanas to Warchief through his whispers to Vol’jin, but there is potential for Garrosh, Thrall, and Sylvanas – perhaps more.
Ysera: She has the big moment of the leveling campaign and is what literally ties together the whole of Ardenweald, but the Covenant campaign doesn’t really have a lot of focus on her. Moreover, there seems to be a sort of antagonistic relationship between the children of Elune and the Winter Queen – it’s hinted at when the debate over Ysera’s fate occurs, but the Winter Queen acquiesces, Ysera is reborn in Ardenweald, and all is well – for now. While I suspect the real emergent plot thread of the Night Fae campaign is the Night Warrior business, Ysera feels like she’ll have some more story in the immediate future.
Artificer Xy’mox: He’s gonna be in every raid tier because he’s always so interested in the power of artifacts.
Next part of this 5 part epic, we’ll talk about the story beats and actual plotlines I expect to see or speculate will take place in 9.1 and beyond!