How Do You Solve a Problem Like Sylvanas?

Sylvanas Windrunner has to be the most ridiculously controversial character in Warcraft lore. Tirion, Thrall, and Garrosh are all contentious figures, but none of them hold a candle to Sylvanas.

Art of Sylvanas WindrunnerSeriously, if you ever feel like trolling, just go to the official lore forum and mention Sylvanas. It doesn’t even matter what you say about her; there will be blood.

Half the fanbase worships Sylvanas, and the other half hates her guts, but everyone has a strong opinion. Myself, I’m of two minds. I do find her absolutely despicable, but she’s also one of the most compelling characters in Warcraft lore, and World of Warcraft would be a much duller place without her.

But Sylvanas presents a problem. No queen can rule forever, and no plot can go on indefinitely. A resolution must be found for her arc, but because she is such a contentious figure, it will be very difficult to find a satisfactory solution.

The problem:

It is my firm belief that all villains have a shelf life. And yes, all apologies to Forsaken fans, but I do consider Sylvanas a villain. She’s more complex and sympathetic than, say, Arthas, but she’s still someone whose ultimate plan is world conquest over the bodies of all who oppose her.

Villains need to die sooner or later. Otherwise, they eventually lose their intimidation factor and become ridiculous. When a villain can never defeat the heroes nor be defeated by them, it makes both sides seem weak and uninspiring. See: the Borg in Star Trek.

Art of Sylvanas WindrunnerThe only other potential solution is redemption, but I don’t see that as an option in Sylvanas’s case. Every piece of story surrounding her so far has been about her becoming more vicious and more corrupt, and at this point, there’s a huge portion of the fan base who would absolutely lose their minds if they were asked to accept a redeemed Sylvanas.

So Sylvanas needs to die. Sooner or later, she’ll be a raid boss. Or maybe a villain in Warcraft IV, but I’m sure that’s just wishful thinking on my part.

But Sylvanas will leave a gaping hole in the lore. She means so much to so many people — even those who hate her, in a way — that finding a suitable replacement as leader of the Forsaken is an excruciatingly difficult task.

Solutions:

Whoever replaces Sylvanas has a number of needs they need to fulfill. They need to be edgy and ruthless enough to fit the Forsaken’s theme, but they need to not be so blatantly evil as Sylvanas, or else there’s really no point in replacing the Dark Lady.

It’s going to be an incredibly difficult tightrope to walk. If the new leader is entirely honourable, the Forsaken have lost their identity, but if they’re not as least somewhat decent in their goals, we’re back to half the players howling for their blood, and nothing is accomplished.

Sylvanas sings the Lament of the HighborneSylvanas is also very meaningful to female players — and male players who appreciate strong female characters. Not only is Sylvanas one of only two female faction leaders, but she’s arguably the only major female character from Warcraft III to not be reduced to a complete non-entity in WoW.

Losing Sylvanas would be an incredible blow to those who care about how women are portrayed in Warcraft, and it would need to be compensated somehow.

The choice needs to make sense in the lore, too. It needs to be plausible that the Forsaken would accept their new leader. Considering most Forsaken revere Sylvanas with a fervor that borders on the religious, that won’t be easy. They would likely view any new leader as a usurper unless they had very good reason to respect them.

So with all that being said, let’s examine the potential candidates to replace Sylvanas.

WARNING: If you have not read my finalist story from Blizzard’s writing contest, “The Future of Lordaeron,” the rest of this post will contain spoilers for it.

Koltira Deathweaver:

Art of Koltira DeathweaverKoltira is one of the more oft-mentioned candidates for new leader of the Forsaken. He’s got a lot going for him. As a Knight of the Ebon Blade, he’s ruthless, but he also knows there are some lines that must not be crossed. He’s established as a Horde-sympathetic character, and he clearly has no love for Sylvanas.

I don’t think he’s ultimately a very good choice, though. For one thing, what reason would the Forsaken have to follow him? He’s an outsider.

Perhaps more importantly, he has a penis, and I really think the new leader of the Forsaken must be female.

Lilian Voss:

Now here’s a stronger contender. Lilian is a fan favourite, and a strong and respectable female character. She’s a ruthless killer that will show no mercy to her enemies, but she is also principled — almost fanatically so — and it’s hard to imagine her going to the extremes Sylvanas has.

All in all, Lilian is an excellent anti-hero, and she fits the themes of the Forsaken perfectly. But as much as I love Lilian, there are some glaring problems with her as a new potential faction leader.

One is that she is almost certainly meant as an homage to a character from Magic: The Gathering. Blizzard doesn’t shy away their pop culture references, but I’m not sure they’d go so far as to make one a major faction leader.

The other is that Lilian’s entire personality is defined by utter rejection of undeath and the Forsaken culture. It’s hard to imagine the Forsaken choosing to follow her, and it’s even harder to imagine that she would choose to lead them.

Calder Gray:

I don’t think Calder Gray is in any way a viable candidate. I just want to take a moment to imagine how awesome it would be if he did take over the Forsaken.

Everyone on Azeroth would be dead within a week, but it would be an entertaining week.

Nathanos Blightcaller:

Nathanos is a reasonably viable candidate. As one of Sylvanas’s most trusted lieutenants, he commands the respect of the Forsaken people.

Art of Nathanos Blightcaller, the first undead hunterThe main problem with Nathanos is that he doesn’t really have a lot of history or personality to draw on. I mean, I’m a lore nut, and even I barely know who he is.

Plus, again, male.

Undead Calia Menethil:

If you’ve read “The Future of Lordaeron,” it should come as no surprise to you that I view Calia Menethil as the best candidate for replacing Sylvanas.

If you haven’t heard of Calia, I don’t blame you. She’s appeared in only a handful of scenes in a few of the novels. Basically, all we know about her is that she is Arthas’s older sister and that she was briefly engaged to Deathwing (in human guise).

It’s presumed that she was killed by her brother during the fall of Lordaeron, but we really don’t know. There’s a long-standing theory that an NPC in Theramore, Calia Hastings, is actually Calia Menethil in disguise, but there’s no evidence to back this up. And we don’t know if she survived the mana bomb.

This puts Calia in a unique position. As the elder child of King Terenas and the sister of Prince Arthas, she is a very important figure in lore, but she’s also something of a blank slate. She can become whatever kind of character the plot requires.

Cover art for my fan fiction "The Future of Lordaeron"She also has the best chance of winning over the support of the Forsaken people. Lately, Sylvanas has done much harping on the idea of the Forsaken being the rightful owners of Lordaeron — and to be fair, it was their home in life. I’m in the camp that says they gave up their rights when they started plaguing things, but the Forsaken themselves seem to believe in it.

If that’s really the case, then Calia would be their rightful ruler. Assuming she’s still walking around in some form, she is the last scion of the Menethil line and thus the queen of Lordaeron.

Assuming that Calia was murdered and raised into undeath, she would likely be a much harder woman than she was in life. So she could fit the ruthless image of the Forsaken. I’m just getting into pure fan fic at this point, but I also imagine she would want to avoid anything like the evil perpetrated by her brother.

This puts her into the sweet spot of anti-hero the Forsaken need.

There are very flaws with Calia as a replacement to Sylvanas, in my view. The main one would be that she is relatively unknown, and so she could appear to come out of left field to some people.

There are some fans who are quite offended by the idea of “another” Alliance character going Horde, but anyone who gets so offended by a plot twist in a game is taking things too seriously, and considering the near total lack of factual basis for any Horde favouritism on Blizzard’s part — historically, the Alliance has been shown much more favouritism — it’s hard to give much weight to such concerns.

Plus, if they put Calia in charge, I can brag and take credit for it.

* * *

What do you think? How should Sylvanas’s story arc come to an end, and who should replace her in the event she becomes a loot pinata?

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My latest article on WhatMMO is Top 6 MMOs for Housing, in case any of you are looking to get into the virtual real estate market.

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2 thoughts on “How Do You Solve a Problem Like Sylvanas?

  1. I’m a Sylvanas lover! Her lore for me is the most interesting. There’s no doubt that what she’s doing now is evil as f*ck, but I love the way she came back and gained power after the torture she went through. I am really interested to see how her story plays out; I remember watching the Wrathgate cinematic and thinking how awesome it would be to have an expansion or patch based around defeating Sylvanas and her army. She could be a pretty cool raid boss. I never really thought about who would replace her; but reading your ideas about Calia, I think she would be a good fit! I agree though that losing Sylvanas would be a massive loss in World of Warcraft and I kinda hope it doesn’t happen too soon! I think having Sylvanas as a villain in Warcraft IV would sit better with me.

    • Yeah, I agree with pretty much all of that. Unfortunately, I don’t think we’re getting Warcraft IV any time soon, but one can hope.

      I just hope her ending does justice to her character better than Illidan’s did.

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