World of Warcraft Battle for Azeroth - Sylvanas Windrunner is the Leader Horde Has Needed for a Long Time

Cinematic still from World of Warcraft: Battle for Azeroth

Cinematic still from World of Warcraft: Battle for Azeroth

People just don’t understand what war actually is. They think war is all about treaties, peace, and being honorable. It’s not. It’s about much more.

The way Sylvanas Windrunner has been written in the Battle for Azeroth expansion has been murky at best. But the evidence of her greatness, whether people want to see it or not, is there for all to see. How Sylvanas has been treated, her past experiences shape her controversial decision-making in war today. Let’s explore.

The Many Tastes of Betrayal

Ever since she regained her freedom from Ner’Zhul, she has been betrayed by those she trusted.

  • Betrayal by Humans and subsequently, The Alliance. Though the Undead, under Sylvanas’ leadership, did not attempt to join the join the Alliance, they were met with much hostility after they were freed from The Lich King’s control. They were seen as abominations and “untrustworthy” and their lands constantly being encroached on. They were “foresaken” by the living.

Lady Sylvanas Windrunner says: So, it is done.
Lady Sylvanas Windrunner says: I had not dared to trust my senses - too many times has the Lich King made me to be a fool.
Lady Sylvanas Windrunner says: Finally, he has been made to pay for the atrocities he imposed upon my people.
Lady Sylvanas Windrunner says: May Azeroth never fail to remember the terrible price we paid for our weakness... for our pride.
Lady Sylvanas Windrunner says: But what now, hero? What of those freed from his grasp, but still shackled to their mortal coils?
Lady Sylvanas Windrunner says: Leave me.
Lady Sylvanas Windrunner says: I have much to ponder.
world of warcraft wrath of the lich king.gif
Lady Sylvanas Windrunner says: Now the Lich King is dead and we have returned.
Lady Sylvanas Windrunner says: The people who called this land their home in life, do so in death as well.
Lady Sylvanas Windrunner says: But the Alliance does not recognize our rights. They claim this land as their own while attempting to invalidate the claims of the founders of this kingdom.
  • Betrayal by Varimathras and Putress. Though Sylvanas and Varimathras were begrudgingly allies, Varimathras recruited Foresaken in Undercity, driving a wedge between Sylvanas and those loyal to her. And at Wrathgate, likely acting on Varimathras’ orders, Apothecary Putress unleashes the blight onto both Horde and Alliance, killing Bolvar Fordragon in the process.

  • Betrayal by her sister, Vereesa Windrunner. During the trial of Garrosh Hellscream at The Temple of the White Tiger, Vereesa noticed how much her sister, Sylvanas, loathed Garrosh. She set up a meeting with Sylvanas and they plotted to poison Garrosh. But at the last minute, Vereesa chickened out and confessed their plans to Prince Anduin Wrynn.

  • Betrayal by Godfrey. After committing suicide because he’d rather die than have a worgen for a king (Genn Greymane), Sylvanas had her valkyr resurrect him as one of her Foresaken. Sylvanas commanded him to kidnap Lorna Crowley to hold her for ransom in hopes for a cease fire between the Gilneas Liberation Front and the Forsaken. But Godfrey wanted to kill Lorna and bring her back as a Forsaken to exact revenge on her father, Darius Crowley, one of King Genn Greymane’s right-hand men and leader of the Gilneas Liberation Front. When Darius surrendered to Sylvannas, Godfrey shot and killed her (Sylvanas). Her valkyr were quick to resurrect her.

Reasoning Behind Questionable Actions

While it many will argue that Sylvanas is self-serving, one thing that has remained constant throughout the lore is that Sylvanas is a protector—the protector of the Forsaken. And now, the Horde.

In Edge of Night, Sylvanas threw herself off of the icy cliffs of Icecrown Citadel after the defeat of The Lich King. Lingering in purgatory, she saw a vision of her peoples' future. Without her, then Warchief Garrosh Hellscream would sacrifice the Forsaken, Sylvanas’ people, in a failed assault on Gilneas.

“But you can’t just send them right into the central breach in the wall,” Lydon continued. “It’s a… a chokepoint. Well fortified, closely watched. Heavy armored troops on horseback couldn’t maneuver through the breach: they’d be mown down by musketfire from the debris. Surely you can see—“

”Of course I see!” Garrosh answered. “The door is wedged open; now it must be kicked down. This is what your kind is good for.”

Where is the Dark Lady, Sylvanas? [Lydon] wondered, turning his empty eye sockets toward the gray heavens. Why isn’t she here to counter this beast?
— Edge of Night

She stood up to Garrosh Hellscream when others couldn’t. And she put fear in him.

At that moment, nobody dared look Sylvanas Windrunner in the eye. Nobody but Garrosh Hellscream.

…there was fear in those eyes, but also something else. Something that terrified even the great warchief. His wolf began to edge away instinctively.

Warchief Sylvanas.jpg

Sylvanas is a brilliant and patient war tactician.

She knows that peace between the Horde and Alliance is always short-lived. Her exchange with High Overlord, Varok Saurfang in A Good War offers the explanation of why she burned The World Tree. People like to think that she threw a tantrum, but this was part of her plan that she mapped out with Saurfang.

“If I dedicated myself to peace with the Alliance, would it last a year?”

“Yes,” Saurfang said curtly.

“How about two years? Five? Ten? Fifty?”

Saurfang felt the trap closing in on him, and he did not like it. “We fought side‐by‐side against the Burning Legion. That creates bonds that are not easily broken.”

“Time breaks every bond.” Sylvanas leaned across the table. Her words flew like arrows. “What do you believe? Will peace last five years or fifty?

Both the Horde and Alliance navies were at minimum capacity. Sylvanas effectively divided the Alliance forces and Horde now controls all of Kalimdor, something that has never been achieved. With the razing of Teldrasil, the Alliance is in a political crisis, orchestrated by Sylvanas.

What happens when Genn Greymane, Malfurion Stormrage, and Tyrande Whisperwind all demand differing actions? He is not a high king like his father. The respect the others give him is a courtesy, not an obligation. Anduin Wrynn will rapidly become a leader who cannot act. If the Alliance will not march as one, each nation will act in its own interest. Each army will return home to protect their lands from us.”

“And that is how you defeat Stormwind.” Saurfang was in awe. It was brilliant.”

“We need to frighten them before we arrive here. If they decide to fight instead of run, the final step of this battle will be messier than all the rest,” she said. “What can we do to make the civilians of Teldrassil so afraid they can think of nothing but running?”
— A Good War

Sylvanas has never been naive about what the Horde and others think about her, ever since she was turned into the Undead Banshee Queen, no one has trusted her and that’s largely due in part to those who have betrayed her. She has sacrificed herself time and time again for her people, but critics cannot grasp the complexity of her character or decisions. They don’t understand that Warchief Sylvanas is playing the long game to secure the future of the Horde and peace will be on her terms, not Alliance because peace on the Alliance’s terms has always been flimsy and fragile. Horde has needed a leader who will let the Alliance know that Horde isn’t playing the same game they’ve been playing for hundreds of years.

What if…

Since Sylvanas predicted the behaviors of the Alliance leaders, what if Saurfang, Baine Bloodhoof, and Lore’thmar’s betrayal were also calculated? What if their betrayals were planned for? It’s not that far-fetched. Remember, Sylvanas and Saurfang had already planted the seeds of "Horde dissent" among the Alliance spies. We know she’s using Mathias Shaw and his spies to play Anduin. What if they played King Anduin, allowing Saurfang to be captured, knowing Anduin would release Saurfang? While it’s highly unlikely that Saurfang was in on it, it’s incredibly likely that Sylvanas planned for their betrayal.

Whatever your thoughts on Sylvanas Windrunner — love her, hate her, or you’re on the fence — the story surrounding her in Battle for Azeroth is far from over. We don’t know what Blizzard has planned for her, but we’re excited nonetheless.

Special shout out to my favorite World of Warcraft historian and queen of WarcraftMemes, Katalyst Evrmeme for always being up for talking World of Warcraft lore with me.

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