One of my favorite pastimes on this blog is to engage in rampant speculation. Armed with a little bit of understanding about what is currently happening in the game lore and the future content plans of the game as announced, it is fun to then go nuts from there and put forward some ideas. To be clear – I’ve put some thought into these, but I’m not 100% sure they would happen as whether or not something happens in WoW depends on the direction the lore team is going, which isn’t always clear or setup in advance in ways that we can analyze and predict.
This will be part of a 3 post series – today’s will be Shadowlands patches, part 2 will be what I would speculate 10.0 could be from a few possibilities, and part 3 will be the remaining story beats to explore and some what-ifs that I think are less likely, but could happen!
So let’s start with part 1!
What Comes Next in the Realms of Death?
My bingo card had Sylvanas being the endboss of the whole expansion, with the Jailer dealt with earlier, and the announcement of Chains of Domination kind of shot that whole theory right in the kneecaps. Ouch.
But I still have a few ideas about where things go from here, and there is a cornerstone of my theory that still makes sense, I think…
The Jailer Isn’t the Last Boss of Shadowlands
I keep coming back to this theme as something that is bugging me. The Jailer is an obvious big bad, both literally and metaphorically. He’s huge, evil, and his poorly-defined plan sounds like it exists to serve his interests rather than those of his allies or puppets. But yet, I can’t quite get behind him being the end-of-expansion villain. In fact, I think the recent history of the game directly contradicts the idea that the actual evil we face for most of the expansion is our final boss. In WoD, Archimonde was our ultimate baddie, who served as a transitional story arc to get us to Legion. In Legion, Argus was our final boss, whom we faced to transition (sort of) into Battle for Azeroth. In BfA, we fought N’Zoth, who didn’t connect to Shadowlands as clearly as the others connected to the next expansion, but it created a safety against the threats to Azeroth that we could turn to the sky and move into the Shadowlands, and now here we are.
You could argue that many of those last bosses are clearly connected to the main plot of their given expansion in some way – Gul’dan was doing Archimonde’s work, Argus was a servant of Sargeras, and N’Zoth was manifesting his nightmarish vision of Azeroth due to the weakening of the World Soul that led to Azerite being everywhere, with a recurring theme of Old God corruption being present throughout the expansion.
So who would that have even been in Shadowlands? Well, currently, it would be Sylvanas. She served the Jailer, met his requests, and has allowed the boundary between worlds to come down. If this were a Legion analogue, she’d be Gul’dan – and, in fact, given the timing of Nighthold in the Legion canon, she kind of is. The way I see it though is much simpler – more akin to BfA in this way. Sylvanas and the Jailer are going to open the way to a new threat, one that will carry us into 10.0 (and why I’m writing this set of posts as a series) but they themselves aren’t going to be the threat.
In fact, my assumption is that any success the Jailer’s plan meets will be stomped out by us pretty sharply. Why? Well, if we take the information provided to us currently at face value, the Jailer’s plan involves bringing down the boundaries between life and death completely, which Sylvanas believes is the key to free will, any change of heart coming in 9.1 notwithstanding. If we buy into that fully, where we then land is that such a change would, in theory, allow the residents of the Shadowlands to move into living worlds freely, and vice-versa. That could open the door to a wide array of characters crossing between both worlds – the lore characters whom we are exploring in Shadowlands in their afterlives could well return if that were the case.
However, I don’t think that serves the narrative going forward (or, at least, I think it would be hokey and sort of bad if that was the intention). I think we may see that boundary topple briefly, and it will become a pressing threat for us, but we will, in 9.2, extinguish that threat and the Jailer with it. Why? Well, my assumption of what happens next expansion (more on that next time) relies on a different villain taking center-stage for the final act of 9.3, one that carries narrative weight and a connection to the lore I suspect we’ll be getting in 10.0. Who is that? Well, reader, I’m glad you asked!
Tyrande, Elune, and the Balance
Ooh, this is going to get spicy.
Tyrande’s fate in the Shadowlands right now seems pretty straightforward – she simply needs to enter a power-sharing agreement with some friends and allies, keeping the power of the Night Warrior from consuming her fully while maintaining the power she does have. The evidence of Ardenweald is that Night Warriors past have had a rough go of it and nearly always fall to the power.
Given that, right now, it seems fairly easy to conclude that Tyrande is going to find someone to share with, or multiple someones – she has her husband Malfurion, her daughter Shandris Feathermoon, and perhaps some roster of others she could lean upon for that. The question is, though, will she have enough time to bring them together and complete the ritual? The safe bet right now seems to be yes, but I’m going to buck the trend slightly here.
Tyrande as a character has a history in the lore as a sort of aloof champion of her people. Her characterization of late, in particular, is singularly focused on vengeance against Sylvanas for the burning of Teldrassil, and while her people stand with her at Darkshore in beating back the Forsaken incursion, there seems to be a growing distance between Tyrande as leader of the Night Elves and her people – a gap further exacerbated by her growing power as the Night Warrior.
In 9.1, we’ll be taking on Sylvanas as our ultimate raid encounter for Shadowlands season 2, and the question that lingers over all of it is what Sylvanas’ fate will be. Some say redeemed (Blizzard is damn sure hinting at that), some will say dead at our hands, some will say alive but question her fate, but my bet (and what I personally want to see happen for lore continuity as I see it) is that she dies, but not at our hands. We weaken her, the fight ends with her on her knees, and then Tyrande comes in for the kill-steal. It makes the most sense to me of the possibilities, even as it fights against the idea that Blizzard is pitching of a possible redemption – the players extract their vengeance on Sylvanas and prove our power against her, she is able to monologue in whatever direction (she could do a deathbed repentance or something along those lines) and then Tyrande, consumed by her fury and the power of Elune, kills her. Redemption for Teldrassil, hurrah!
There’s just a few slight problems with that. Narratively, one of the themes that Blizzard has been building, mostly via Uther, is that there is a difference between retributive justice and open vitriolic vengeance. Uther gave in to his hate and cast Arthas into the Maw, starting him on a spiral that led to him almost slipping into full villainy (thoughts about the Ascended Kyrian and their characterization aside for a moment) and that spiral required intervention to break him out of it before it cost him his afterlife. The whole of Revendreth is a realm built on the power of atonement – that one can confess their sins, move past them, and work as a force for good. Tyrande giving in and killing Sylvanas, regardless of how emotionally satisfying that moment might ultimately be, would be, by the current logic of the story, a downfall for her.
Further, we already know how Night Elf wardens respond when losing their charge – it causes them to question their identity and come away confused, uncertain, and distant. Such was the character arc of Maiev, who lost her goal in life when Illidan was defeated at the Black Temple and it led to no small amount of soul-searching on her part, which included a vicious assassination of a Highborne leader as told in the novel Wolfheart, and that ultimately led to her exile from Night Elf society, sending her off to the Vault of the Wardens to fester on her goal of making the Night Elves great again (hey waitaminute…) before she finally found herself allied with the Watchers again and returned to proper Night Elf society, as we can see during the Battle of Darkshore.
My hunch, then, is simple enough with those points stated – Tyrande will be consumed by her hatred for Sylvanas, her need for vengeance, and she will deal the killing blow, only for the void it will create in her current existence to become all-consuming. Much like Maiev before her, losing her self-appointed charge will consume her with emptiness and while Maiev had the benefit of time to reflect and work towards her own re-integration into the Kaldorei, Tyrande is a ticking time bomb. Should she feel that emptiness, she will need time alone to think, to feel, to work through the problems that face her and to find a way forward. However, she is being consumed more and more by the second with the overwhelming power of Elune, and it will tear her apart if not addressed. My theory is thus – at the worst possible time, she will be exiled, and she will fall prey to the power of Elune, consumed fully and becoming our ultimate raid encounter for Shadowlands, hopefully in a raid that involves the burned husk of Teldrassil (because it would look amazing and be a really cool location to explore, especially as a world zone with a raid and perhaps also a dungeon on it).
Further, we know Tyrande has some allies who are blessed by Elune in-lore, as a contingent of Night Elves and Worgen were witness to the ceremony of the Night Warrior and currently make up the Army of the Black Moon, who are present in Darkshore aiding Tyrande during the warfront there, and possessed of the same blackened eyes that the Night Warrior herself has. They gain special powers under the black moon, thus their strong connection to (and remaining in) Darkshore. But that adds to my theory – a whole raid could in theory exist with the Army of the Black Moon taking the fight to us.
Why would they fight us, though? Well, I think that Tyrande will reach a point where she has no other allies, where she has cast away all of us and found herself believing that she must take matters into her own hands. In a parallel to Maiev, she will surround herself with her close allies and sycophants, and seek a new path to what she perceives as justice. She may even have Maiev’s glaive in service, as Maiev has been working to restore the Night Elves to greatness as she sees it, and Maiev also (in the Shadows Rising novel) has a deep desire to see the Horde as a whole brought low for their role in burning Teldrassil. In this way, Maiev and Tyrande may finally reunite and be fully on the same page, as Tyrande has been distancing herself from both factions and especially the Alliance (which is told both in-game and in Shadows Rising) and Maiev has long been ostracized from even her own race until very recently. The whole thing is a powder keg, one that is ticking down with each moment that Tyrande spends at the sole Night Warrior. Were she to kill Sylvanas, I could see her self-exiling to Teldrassil in a possible effort to rebuild, and thus…new world zone, raid, etc!
But that leaves a second question of sorts that I have been dancing around thus far – why would Elune be so important to this and why would Elune be a force worth fighting against?
Well, that gets messy and dives into a mix of hints in the official lore and fan extrapolation from them.
To start with, let’s establish for those not following the lore what Elune is at a high level – she is the only being in Warcraft (besides the Old Gods) actually referred to as a God(ess), she is both the matron deity of the Night Elves and shares a deity role over the Tauren as Mu’sha as one of the eyes of the Earthmother, and she is presented as a gossamer Night Elf of unparalleled beauty, a benevolent force said to have slept in the Well of Eternity, and a force for balance – between sun and moon, life and death (ahhh….), and peace and pacifism. Elune is known to be willing to inflict harm to protect the balance, and her fierce side, the Night Warrior, is both a literal part of her as told in her mythology but also the manifestation of her power in a mortal being, such that they receive the title of Night Warrior.
It is stated in Legion that Elune is believed to have had a role in the creation of the Prime Naaru, and Velen even discusses that it is believed that Elune may be a Naaru herself. Elune works far beyond our known universe, as Thiernax, the Night Warrior we encounter in Ardenweald, was on a different planet than one any of our lore has taken place on. In Shadowlands, the Winter Queen states that Ysera is “my sister’s pet” which implies a familial relationship of some sort between Elune and the Winter Queen, and in other dialogue, the Winter Queen presents her sister as “vengeful” and “vexing.”
On the fan theory side, a lot of speculation exists about the role of Elune in the Warcraft cosmos.
During BfA, a popular theme that began to emerge was that Elune may be the goddess of Death, or that it at least serves as part of her powers. Due to the way in which Bwon’samdi discusses things, the presence of De Other Side in Ardenweald, and Elune’s power of balance, it seems reasonable to get close to this point. However, Elune also being the creator of the Naaru is an interesting side of that as well, in that Naaru act on a cycle of balance, giving in to void taint before being reborn in brilliant Light. There is a lot of speculation based on in-game art assets, like that Elune may have had a role in the creation of Azeroth based on murals in Suramar, or that she is also the Tidemother, as the sages of Stormsong Valley have murals of lunar light blessing their ships present in the Shrine of the Storms.
For my part, I’m going to stick mostly to the in-game lore that we know – Elune represents balance and is heavily rumored in modern lore content to be a Naaru or at least their origin point. Okay, what now then?
Well, we know that Elune gives her powers to her chosen, and that Tyrande being allowed to be the Night Warrior represents a designation of worthiness made by Elune. Given that my hunch is that we face off with Tyrande, what role does Elune play?
Well…I think that us fighting against Tyrande, and her all-too-likely death between a combination of her swelling Night Warrior powers going unshared alongside battle damage between a scuffle with Sylvanas and a full raid battle with us players will kill Tyrande, leaving Elune with no living servant able to take up the mantle of Night Warrior. With that, I think we will attract Elune’s fury, and it will couple to themes we’ve been exploring for multiple expansions now.
Will that be the core theme of 9.3, though?
Well…no. I fully suspect that it will be the direction we go in for 10.0, although that will take more fleshing out.
And that is what is on-deck for tomorrow!