This post will have spoilers for Shadowlands content and speculation based on it.
With 9.0.5 offering no new story (that we can see as of yet, at least) and the main story beats of 9.0 largely resolved, the future story of Shadowlands will be a part of the information we should be getting on Friday at Blizzconline. What are the remaining beats, and what do I think is happening in 9.1?
Well, we’re here for that today.
Because there are a lot of plots in motion, let’s break down the big ones first and then I’ll attempt to bundle what I suspect we’ll see as 9.1, 9.2, and 9.3!
The House of the Chosen and Maldraxxus’ Fate
I’ve been directly confronting this one all week, but I firmly believe it will be our next major plotline. Of the Covenant campaigns from launch, the Necrolords are the only ones with an immediate threat, a self-contained story that can be parlayed for the entire WoW audience, and it has both minor lore hooks but also a few major characters that can be bound up in it.
What’s the hook? Well, it’s easy enough. When we leave Maldraxxus from our leveling journey, Baron Vyraz has assumed control of the House of the Chosen as a traitor, revealed to have been responsible for the death of the current Margrave, the exile of Alexandros Mograine to the Maw, and seeding chaos among the ranks of the Maldraxxi Houses. The Covenant campaign has the Necrolords picking up from this, bringing the remaining Margraves under the Necrolords through discovery of the machinations of Kel’Thuzad, who is in league with the Jailer, and ends with all houses but the Chosen unified under the Necrolords’ banner. This sets up an obvious hook – while the Necrolords challenge the other houses and directly confront and slay Margrave Gharmal, they do not challenge Vyraz in any meaningful way. This implies that the strength of the Chosen remains a threat, and while the Necrolords have obtained a tenuous peace between the other houses, the Chosen remain an active threat and must be stopped at some point.
In the end, I think that the House of the Chosen gives us everything we need for a strong local story akin to the 8.1 story of BfA – there’s a remaining local threat that all players have some degree of familiarity with, there’s more story to be told there with an obvious antagonist, believable threat to the players and the progress of the Shadowlands, an existing plot of land large enough to be a raid, and it remains a loose end that we should tie up before progressing forward to the more Azeroth-centric chapters that I am sure are to come.
The only real problem I would identify is that there aren’t that many characters we know that can be a part of the raid in question. There’s Vyraz, and…well, you could pull in Kel’Thuzad, but he’s implied to be off in the Maw already. Maybe a heel turn for some of the characters in Maldraxxus? That could work, but many of those characters are also already either coming off of face turns from being brought into the fold, or would be awkward shifts. The original-to-Maldraxxus characters don’t have any great hooks to explore and wouldn’t really be exciting or engaging in a substantial way. My suspicion is that a raid based around this story hook is going to be filled with jobbers, akin (again!) to Battle for Dazar’alor, where none of the bosses are lore-important except a small handful.
Also, the Runecarver would appear to be the Primus, and that will likely be very important to this story!
The Atonement of Kael’Thas Sunstrider
The Venthyr campaign has a few major plot points, but the one that most players get to see slightly from the outside is the freeing of Kael’thas from Castle Nathria. His journey going forward is one of atonement and learning humility – character traits that Kael’thas absolutely lacks. His story will be an interesting one to follow, because even as Kael’thas gets onto the right path and assuming he is dedicated to the journey, he will have challenges facing him. He has history with Sylvanas, Arthas, Tyrande, and all of these characters can push and pull him away from the path. Sylvanas was his Ranger General and may very well wind up pulling him down with her, while Arthas sieged his city. Tyrande had a limited (and friendly) interaction with Kael’thas in Warcraft III, so I don’t see that interaction going too far, but Kael’thas also served under Illidan (well, sort of) and Tyrande may have opinions on that. Either way, his story isn’t going to be a substantial, stand-alone story, but it will definitely be important and will feed into a plot that works in 3-4 other story beats.
The Redemption of Uther
Uther had a sort-of interesting plot in the Kyrian campaign, where he walked a darker path, obsessed with vengeance under the guise of justice. We’ve seen him start to reconcile that worldview and be welcomed into the fold of the Kyrian, but it is clear we will see him again. His path is pretty much tailor-made to intersect with Arthas’, who we are very likely to see soon. Hopefully, before we get there, Uther also helps lead meaningful reform for the Kyrian, who are not great people and there approach to the afterlife should absolutely be revised!
Tyrande Whisperwind and the Spread of the Night Warrior
The Night Fae campaign reveals a crucial plot twist to the Night Warrior powers Tyrande took on in Battle for Azeroth – that eventually, one person cannot contain the power alone and must share and spread the power in order to live. Tyrande’s problem is twofold – she must find people willing to share that burden, and while she has people close to her, she has also spent a lot of the last two years lashing out at allies and pushing people away. All of this is going on while she’s on a single-minded path of retribution leading to a conflict with Sylvanas and away from many of the remaining people who might be able to help her share the burden of the Night Warrior powers. Yikes! I firmly believe we will not see her until Sylvanas takes center-stage.
Anduin is in jail. The bad tower no one likes. Uh-oh!
In all seriousness, Anduin’s plight is a fascinating one to me. As a character, he’s matured and grown a lot and the Anduin we see in Shadowlands is edgier, sharper, wittier, and more sure of himself. When last we left him, we left off on a cliffhanger where our little lion has challenged Sylvanas to make a choice as she is threatening. I expect that he’ll be fine, somehow, for now, but it is difficult to predict where the story is going. It would be a sort of expected turn for him to go evil, whether by choice or not, to try and set a balance between Horde evil and Alliance evil (low-key, the Horde is an awful set of genocidal maniacs who have been complicit at all levels including players in multiple horrific atrocities and no singular evil Alliance leader will ever wash that blood off the ledger but y’all aren’t ready for that conversation and neither am I today) but at the same time, if Sylvanas is about to be on a redemption tour…maybe not! Either way, I expect this to fall in with the other stories of the Sylvanas Bucket.
Just…her, you know? She’s got a lot going on, but yet in Shadowlands, her journey has been surprisingly muted and subdued. Sylvanas’ story, in my mind, ends in Shadowlands, one way or another. The question that remains is does she go out on the path she’s on now, evil, irredeemable, unworthy of valor – or does she redeem herself and die an honorable death? In my mind, I would loathe the redemption arc for Sylvanas. I know that human fiction needs to believe that anyone can atone for their mistakes and denying her that implies that maybe some people are beyond redemption. And, you know what? Yeah, I believe that. Sylvanas has done too much evil, and she should not be redeemed, not even making an effort at it. Even if she is contrite, the response should effectively be to cast that aside and serve her her fate. Like in real life, if someone’s actions cause the death of countless numbers of innocent people, they don’t deserve any sympathy or redemption. That won’t stop shitty people from attempting that redemption anyways, but those people should be ignored and criticized. Sylvanas’ death is not justice, but she does not deserve anything beyond that – a challenging tightrope to walk!
The Jailer’s Plot
What is the Jailer doing? We don’t know, and only have vague wording around it about breaking down the barriers between life and death. Why does he need Anduin? What role does Torghast play? What is Sylvanas doing on his behalf? What is the true nature of the relationship between the Jailer and Sylvanas? There’s so much there to explore.
Everything with Arthas is interesting right now. He’s in the Maw, how’s he coping? Where is he? Is he working for the Jailer or a lost soul? Will he cross Uther again, or any other character he’s interacted with? How will we discover him? I could write a lot more, but basically, just the word “Arthas” is all we really have, need, and can analyze now without diverging off to fan fiction.
Helya and the Forsworn
Helya is all that remains minus scraps of the Forsworn, but we’re unsure of what role Helya plays and the terms of her deal with Sylvanas from back in Legion.
So, with all of that explored, what do I expect to see?
9.1 is, in my estimation, a Maldraxxus-centered story about the House of the Chosen, with us raiding it to deal with the remaining threats local to the Shadowlands. I expect this to involve the Mograines and their family reunion, the Runecarver being outed as the Primus and being pushed to remember, and all of this serving to set us up with a clear link forward to the Jailer.
Now here’s my swerve. I expect that we’ll actually deal with the Jailer and most of his minions in 9.2. Why? I think the major lore characters we already have are the ones that we most need to explore in a final patch, and the way that we’ll unlock to progress forward is for the Jailer to reveal his plan and either succeed at it, or fail. We’ll face Helya, raid through the Maw and the Jailer’s quarters in Torghast, and it will ultimately end with the success or failure of his plot.
Which will call out the character I’ve left out – Sylvanas. My suspicion is that Sylvanas takes on the main villain role in 9.3, with Anduin involved in whatever fate he has. This is the point at which most of our Azerothian pals get looped in – Kael’thas, Uther, Kel’Thuzad, Tyrande, Bolvar, and the resulting madness will see us bridged into the next expansion – which I do have a hunch about, but that isn’t for today.
Why do I feel this way? Well, I think that if I get my biggest wish (no Sylvanas redemption tour), then her work with the Jailer is waiting for her to assume control and cut him out. However, I don’t expect her to do that without seeing the plan to fruition and allowing someone else to take the brunt of his wrath. The players knocking on his door will be a force that can push against him and meet with equal or greater force, allowing Sylvanas to take her final steps into the limelight. The Jailer has those that have worked for him through the Shadowlands, and they’ll collapse on their leader if they are called. This presents Sylvanas her opportunity and allows us a full story chapter that can be solely devoted to our major lore characters. In between, we can look at the role of characters like Ysera, the Winter Queen, Kyrestia, the Arbiter, and others, and those can be woven in with 9.x.5 story content, as we got during BfA.
Ultimately, these are all just informed guesses, and short of the 9.1 prediction, I wouldn’t bet on these. However, the fact that we have so many different plot threads is pretty cool, and provided many of them pay off, I think Shadowlands could be an all-timer for lore nerds and storytelling afficionados.